Mayo Clinic: Medical students more likely to abuse alcohol

Medical students are more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers not in medical school, according to a study by researchers at Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic.

As part of the study, which appears in the journal Academic Medicine, researchers surveyed 12,500 medical students, approximately 4,166 of whom responded.

Of the approximately 4,166 respondents, around one third — or 1,400 students — showed signs of clinical alcohol abuse or dependence. Researchers did not find any significant statistical difference between male and female students, or between students in different years.

Meanwhile, only 16 percent of medical students' similarly aged peers who are not in medical school showed signs of abuse or dependence. In addition, the rate of dependence among medical students is two times the rate of abuse or dependence among physicians, surgeons or the general American public, according to previous research from the study's authors.

Four key factors played a large role in causing alcohol dependence or abuse among medical students. Students who showed signs of abuse or dependence were more likely to:

  • Be experiencing burnout, such as emotional exhaustion or feelings of depersonalization
  • Be younger than their peers in medical school
  • Be unmarried
  • Carry higher debt load

Higher debt isn't just a flight of the imagination. Between 1995 and 2014, the cost of attending medical school increased by 209 percent at private colleges and by 286 percent at public universities, according to the study's authors. For physicians who graduated from medical school in 2014, the average debt was $180,000.

The study's authors also outlined steps for medical schools to mitigate the alcohol abuse and dependence problem. "In our paper we recommend wellness curricula for medical schools, identifying and remediating factors within the learning environment contributing to stress and removal of barriers to mental health services," said study author and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Medical School student Eric Jackson.

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