In 2012, the authors sent a survey with questions about alcohol abuse, burnout, depression, fatigue, suicidal ideation, and quality of life to 12,500 medical students of whom 4402 (35.2%) responded.
Of those responding, 1411 (32.4%) “met diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse/dependence.”
According to the Mayo Clinic’s press release, “Nationally, that translates to about one-third of those responding, compared to only 16 percent of peers not in medical school, and double the rate of alcohol abuse or dependence of surgeons, US physicians or the general public based on earlier research by this team.”
The paper also found that burn out, depression, high educational debt, being unmarried, and being younger were associated with dependence on or abuse of alcohol.
The authors called for a multifaceted approach “addressing burnout, medical education costs, and alcohol use.”
Here are some problems with this study.
The criterion for designating a medical student as of using or dependent on alcohol was based on a three-question screening document called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C).
However, many instructions for administering the AUDIT-C state, "If all points are from Question 1, assume the patient is drinking below recommended limits and the medical provider should review the patient’s alcohol intake during the past few months." I don't think that was possible for the 1411 medical students assumed to be problem drinkers.
Do medical students indulge in alcohol in greater degrees than their peers?
Although not based on the AUDIT-C screen, the following table, taken from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, is interesting.
The table shows that 39.0% and 37.9% of full-time college students engaged in binge drinking in 2013 and 2014, respectively. That is more than the 32.4% of medical students considered problem drinkers.Note that the percentages rise as ages increase from 18 to 22.
Do we have a problem with young people drinking too much? Yes. Do medical students drink more than their peers? I don't think so. Should we do something about medical school tuition? Yes, but exactly what should we do? What about burnout? Good luck with that one. Maybe puppies?