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Is alcoholism an issue with doctors?

Anyone in any profession could have a drinking problem, but people working demanding and stressful jobs may be more likely to turn to alcohol or other substances to cope or to relax. Being a doctor is certainly challenging, and some doctors, perhaps as much as 10 percent, do turn to alcohol and may experience highly negative consequences because of that.

In fact, they are at risk of putting their patients’ health in danger. For example, an intoxicated surgeon might make errors such as cutting off the wrong limb or damaging nerves. A patient could even die, and such behaviors amount to medical malpractice. Unfortunately, it is possible that the doctor’s hospital/employer and co-workers knew about the alcohol issue and did nothing.

High-functioning alcoholic

Many high-functioning alcoholics may seem to do all right in separating their drinking and their professional life. However, as they start to drink more and more, it is all but inevitable that the two worlds will meet. An obvious example is a doctor who drinks when on call and then gets called in.

Anyway, someone who is a high-functioning alcoholic may not necessarily reek of liquor or constantly appear drunk. If a nurse smells alcohol or hears slurred speech, there may be doubts about what he or she saw or heard.

Position of authority

Nurses and other medical personnel are often reluctant to report doctors who may have been drinking. Even patients can be hesitant to do so. Many doctors exude authority and confidence, and others worry about what a false report might do to a doctor’s career. Retaliation for reporting may also be a concern.

Trappings of the job

The side aspects of a doctor’s job may actually involve alcohol. Think about doctors having a few drinks at the golf club or at an awards reception. Seeing doctors drink is normal and seeped into the culture in many places.