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Medical students are more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers who are not enrolled in medical school. This is especially true if they’re young, unmarried and carrying a high student debt load. This was revealed in a research study done at the Mayo Clinic on medical student burnout and a related study that reported on medical students and alcohol abuse.

These findings on medical students and alcohol abuse certainly show there is ample reason for concern. The recommendations set forth by the study were that institutions seek a multifaceted solution that would address the issues of medical student burnout, the cost of medical school, and alcohol abuse among medical students, which are all interrelated.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic sent surveys to 12,500 medical students and received a response from one-third. About 1,400 of those responding said they had experienced alcohol dependence or abuse. This comes to approximately one-third of the respondents, as opposed to just 16% of their peers not enrolled in medical school. This shows that the rate of medical students and alcohol abuse or dependence problems is twice that of U.S. physicians, surgeons or people in the general population based on other earlier research.

Factors leading to medical student burnout, like feelings of depression and emotional exhaustion were highly linked with medical students and alcohol abuse or dependency problems. There were three additional factors that were independently linked:

  1. Being younger in age than most other medical students
  2. Being single
  3. The amount of debt they were carrying in student loans

There were no statistical differences discovered between number of years in medical school or between women and men.

Researchers reported that the average cost of attending medical school rose 209% from 1995 to 2014 at private institutions. The cost rose 286% at public institutions. It’s been said that physicians graduating in 2014 with a medical degree were on average $180,000 in debt due to student loans.

Those in the medical profession are known to suffer from undue stress, depression and anxiety and medical students are experiencing all of these as well. Depression is a well known correlate of substance abuse. The truth is that research has shown that 25% of young physicians are suffering from depression. In fact, the researchers conducting that study were astonished that the numbers remained so high since reforms have taken place to improve the mental health of medical residents to hopefully avoid medical student burnout.

Another study was done comparing the rate of depression among graduates of medical school and people in the population at large. In looking at medical interns, they found them to be more apt to be depressed, but more hesitant to seek mental health treatment.

In comparing samples of people in the general population, medical students, medical residents and fellows, along with new practicing physicians, it was found these groups were more apt to be burned out than people in the population at large. Medical students and medical residents and fellows were also more apt to show symptoms and signs of depression than people in the population at large, which were used as control samples.

In not seeking treatment for mental health issues, respondents working in the medical profession cited they didn’t have time, they were concerned about confidentiality, they wanted to handle their own health in all aspects, and access to mental health treatment was inconvenient for them. Not surprisingly, healthcare professionals have the same barriers as the general public in receiving mental health treatment, which all amounts to a certain amount of stigma.

If you are a medical student and alcohol abuse is a concern, please seek help.  Your patients are depending on you.

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