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Doctors have such a stressful job that they often turn to alcohol

Posted May 17, 2019

There are very little jobs as stressful as being a doctor. Long working hours, huge cost of a single mistake, pressure in life or death situations – it is really taking a toll on mental health of healthcare specialists. In fact, a new study from UCL and Birkbeck, University of London showed that work stress often turns doctors to alcohol and binge-eating.

Doctors often turn to alcohol and binge eating in order to combat stress. Image credit: Alex Proimos via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

It is often said that this is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet. However, it is also one of the most stressful ones. Scientists found that 55% of doctors meet the criteria for burnout and as much as 12% of doctors are suffering from insomnia. As if that wasn’t enough, doctors who are the most stressed are also suffering from ill health and a variety of other problems. For example, researchers found that improper work-life balance causes doctors to experience frequent diarrhoea. Maybe it’s not even surprising that they turn to alcohol and food for comfort and stress reduction.

Scientists surveyed 417 UK medical doctors with an average age of 47 years and found that 5 % of doctors are alcohol dependent. As many as 53 % drink two or more times a week. And, of course, stress seems to be a major factor contributing to their habits. And that’s not all. 3 % of UK’s population has a binge-eating disorder, which is about what you expect in the Western world. However, between medical doctors this percentage is 8 %. Furthermore, one in three doctors have binge-eating symptoms and around 33 % sometimes feel embarrassed, depressed or disgusted with their overeating. Those who work in hospitals are almost twice as likely to partake in binge eating as those who work in communities.

Doctors know all health risks, associated with overeating and alcohol abuse. And yet they cannot do much – stress is killing them. Dr Caroline Kamau, co-author of the study, said: “Doctors are not to blame for having burnout. It is a normal, human reaction to external stressors so doctors must not be stigmatised. What we need is for the NHS to solve the causes of burnout and prevent it from harming the health of our doctors”. Simple intervention techniques are really necessary.

Scientists found that an intervention can significantly reduce anxiety and all negative behaviours stemming from it. In fact, an app could be helpful. Scientists developed an app called Working Stress and will be testing it with real doctors.

This job is very difficult. Irregular working schedule, stress, high cost of a mistake, tiredness, hopeless cases – it is just too much for some people. But doctors should help each other and seek professional help instead of drowning themselves in alcohol and binge eating.


Source: UCL

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