Does occupational distress raise the risk of alcohol use, binge-eating, ill health and sleep problems among medical doctors? A UK cross-sectional study

BMJ Open. 2019 May 15;9(5):e027362. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027362.


Objectives: 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.

Design: This study reports the analysis of data collected at the baseline stage of a randomised controlled trial (protocol #NCT02838290).

Setting: 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.

Participants: 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/drug use (eg, binge-drinking), 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).

Results: 44% of doctors binge-drank 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 (OR ≥1.344; p≤0.036). 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.

Conclusion: 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.

Keywords: eating disorders; mental health; substance misuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / psychology
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Workplace / psychology*

Associated data