Does occupational distress raise the risk of alcohol use, binge-eating, ill health and sleep problems among medical doctors? A UK cross-sectional study
Occupational and environmental medicine
Alcohol use to alleviate work stress commonplace among profession – indicating severe mental health issues.
Occupational distress and job factors increase the odds of doctors using substances, according to researchers from Birkbeck College and University College London, with alcohol frequently cited as one of those most used. Published in the British Medical Journal, the study aimed to assess the prevalence of health problems (including insomnia, binge eating, substance use and ill health) among UK doctors and to investigate whether occupational distress increases the risk of health problems.
The data paints a worrying picture of the UK’s 251,000 practising medics:
- Just over half (53%) of doctors cosnumed alcohol at least twice a week.
- Almost half (44%) binge used alcohol.
- One in three (34%) used alcohol to improve their mood.
- One in five (22%) admitted to using alcohol to deal with a stressful events.
- 5% met the criteria for alcohol dependence.
The results also showed that having more experience working in medicine raised the risk of a doctor consuming alcohol frequently, but lowered the risk of binge alcohol use, whereas doctors who worked in a hospital were more likely to consume high amounts of alcohol on a typical day of alcohol consumption and to binge use.
This study aims to assess the prevalence of health problems (eg, insomnia, binge-eating, substance use and ill health) among UK doctors and to investigate whether occupational distress increases the risk of health problems.
This study reports the analysis of data collected at the baseline stage of a randomised controlled trial
Doctors were invited through medical Royal Colleges, the British Medical Association’s research panel and a random selection of NHS trusts across various UK regions.
417 UK doctors with an equivalent split of gender (48% males) and seniority (49% consultants).
Main outcomes and measures
Outcomes were sleep problems (eg, insomnia), alcohol/other drug use (eg, binge-alcohol use), ill health (eg, backache) and binge-eating(eg, uncontrollable eating). Predictor variables were occupational distress (psychiatric morbidity, burnout, job effort, work-life imbalance, coping with stress through self-blame or substances) and work factors (workplace and years practising medicine).
- 44% of doctors binge-used alcohol and 5% met the criteria for alcohol dependence;
- 24%–29% experienced negative emotions after overeating and 8% had a binge-eating disorder;
- 20%–61% had some type of sleep problem and 12% had severe/moderate insomnia;
- 69% had fatigue and 19%–29% experienced other types of ill health problems.
The results show that occupational distress and job factors increase the odds of doctors using substances, having sleep problems, presenting with frequent symptoms of ill health and binge-eating. For example, burnout increased the risk of all types of sleep problems, eg, difficulty falling/staying asleep, insomnia. Even taking into consideration whether or not a doctor works in a hospital, the risk of health problems still rises when doctors have signs of occupational distress.
Early recognition of occupational distress can prevent health problems among UK doctors that can reduce the quality of patient care because of sickness-related absence.