Alcohol use and abuse in random samples of physicians and medical students

Am J Public Health. 1991 Feb;81(2):177-82. doi: 10.2105/ajph.81.2.177.


Background: This study sought to resolve conflicting views about whether physicians are especially prone to alcohol abuse.

Methods: Using an anonymous, mailed questionnaire on substance use, we surveyed 500 physicians, 510 pharmacists, and 974 of their students. The physicians and pharmacists were selected randomly from the state society's membership lists, and students selected were from local school lists. Follow-up surveys were sent to nonresponders at two-week intervals.

Results: The physicians and medical students did not drink especially heavily and were no more vulnerable to alcoholism than were their counterparts in pharmacy and other professions. Physicians differed from pharmacists in their style of drinking (greater frequency, smaller quantity), but not in total amount of alcohol consumed. Drinking habits among physicians were not associated with medical specialty or type of practice, but were positively related to gender (males drank more than females) and to age (older doctors were more apt to qualify as heavy drinkers than were younger doctors).

Conclusions: Physicians were no more likely to abuse substances nonmedically than were other professionals. Any group in which alcohol use is nearly universal incurs a risk of abuse and impairment that cannot be ignored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pharmacists / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician Impairment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Pharmacy / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology