Medical students are at high risk of alcohol abuse: Study

Medical students are at high risk of alcohol abuse: Study

Medical students strive their best to justify their white coat. However, in the process of perfecting all medical practices, they are sometimes caught in the vicious circle of substance abuse.

According to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic, medical students are more vulnerable to alcohol abuse in comparison to non-medical students, especially if they are young, single and under heavy debt. The study, published in the journal American Medicine in March 2016, aimed at understanding and exploring the relationship between burnout and increasing substance abuse among medical students.

In the latest study, the researchers cited figures from a 2012 study – “The prevalence of substance use disorders in American physicians” – published in the JAMA Surgery. According to the previous study, about 12.9 percent of male physicians and 21.4 percent of female physicians in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence. It also said that some of the manifestations of distress like burnout, depression, and poor quality of life are common among U.S. medical students. However, the relationship between distress and the alcohol abuse among medical students has not been widely explored.

Highlighting the burgeoning level of substance abuse, Liselotte Dyrbye, M.D., Mayo Clinic internist and a senior researcher of the paper, said, “We recommend institutions pursue a multifaceted solution to address related issues with burnout, the cost of medical education and alcohol abuse.”

Findings of the study

The researchers carried forward a 2012 national survey of medical students from the American Medical Association’s Physician Masterfile that assessed alcohol abuse/dependence, burnout, depression, suicidality, quality of life, and fatigue. Among the 26,750 medical students listed in the Masterfile, 12,500 students were taken up for the study. However, only one-third of them, i.e. around 4,402 responded.

Among the respondents, approximately 1,400 medical students met the criteria for alcohol abuse/ dependence. Nationally, the number translates to about one-third of those responding, compared to only 16 percent of peers who were not in medical school.

Alcohol abuse was common among medical students who experienced depression and burnout factors such as high emotional exhaustion and high depersonalization. It was also seen that the students who experienced lower mental and emotional quality of life, also abused alcohol. Other factors associated with alcohol abuse included being single, being younger, and having a high educational debt.

Suicides were, however, not common within this cohort of medical students. Those who indulged in alcohol abuse and were potentially dependent did not commonly endorse suicides. But this does not rule out the potential risk of suicides among medical students.

The researchers also found that medical education debt has sharply risen in the past decades. They said that during 1995-2014, the average cost of private medical schooling increased by 209 percent, while at public schools, it increased by 286 percent. A medical student who graduated in 2014 had an average of $180,000 as educational debt.

Need of the hour

A multi-faceted approach is the need of the hour to reduce burnout rates, to address alcohol issues, and lessen medical fees. Seconding this, Eric Jackson, first researcher, and a Mayo Medical School student, said, “In our paper we recommend wellness curricula for medical schools, identifying and remediating factors within the learning environment contributing to stress, and removal of barriers to mental health services.”

The study suggested that medical schools should undertake remedial programs within the learning environment to ameliorate stress, burnout, and distress among medical students. They should also conduct support group sessions to address all barriers that prevent help for mental health issues and substance abuse. A wellness curriculum, on the other hand, will help the medical students understand the problems during in-training and in-service.

All these together can help them develop strategies to enhance their resilience capabilities, and seek assistance when needed. There should be efforts at the national level to decrease the cost of medical studies. There should be initiatives to make loan repayments easier, deferment of repaying loans, low-interest loans, and innovative debt reconciliation programs.

If you or your loved one is resorting to alcohol abuse due to stress and burnouts, seek the help of a medical expert. The Alcohol Addiction Helpline of California can help you connect to the best treatment procedures that can assist you in getting sober. Chat online or call our 24/7 helpline at 855-980-1715 for more information.

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