Is alcohol your solution for stress management? Stress, burnout, and alcohol use in medical school are common. In fact, alcohol use is more common than you might expect. Is there a connection? That is, does burnout cause excessive alcohol use and/or does alcohol use cause burnout?
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An older review of the topic of alcohol use by Dumitrascu et al. shows that this is a persistent problem. They also identified the need for more current research.
Dumitrascu CI, Mannes PZ, Gamble LJ, Selzer JA. Substance use among physicians and medical students. Medical Student Research Journal. 2014;3:26-35.
Rather than discuss their findings, it helps to look at a more recent publication. Three years later, Ayala et al. completed a study looking at alcohol use among medical students.
Ayala EE, Roseman D, Winseman J S, Mason HRC. Prevalence, perceptions, and consequences of substance use in medical students. Med Educ Online. October 26, 2017;22(1). doi:10.1080/10872981.2017.1392824.
Overall use of alcohol in medical students was greater than that seen in the general population, at 91.3%. In fact, much higher. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 56.3% of young adults aged 18 to 25 were past month alcohol users, a figure consistent with declining alcohol drinking in the past decade.
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Reports and Detailed Tables From the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) | CBHSQ. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2018.
According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future Study, 81% of college students have tried alcohol at least once in their lifetime and 67% report they have been drunk.
Schulenberg John E, Johnston Llyod D, O’Malley Patrick M, Bachman Jerald G, Miech Richard A, Patrick Megan E. Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2017: Volume II, college students and adults ages 19-55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. July 2018.
The point is that such a high rate of drinking is happening at a time when rates of alcohol use are decreasing and peers are drinking far less. This drinking pattern is a cause for concern and something to investigate at an institutional level. At a personal level, it is worth asking “Why am I drinking alcohol more than other people my age or college students?”
We seek to educate medical students about the issue of burnout and alcohol use through game-based learning. In BurntOut, medical students are immersed in a virtual reality environment where they practice coping strategies to improve resilience. The BurntOut role-playing experience delivers targeted, realistic narratives and hands-on scenarios to deepen medical student understanding of how to address and overcome burnout during game-play and beyond.
Currently, we are recruiting medical students to test the BurntOut prototype and provide us feedback, as well as provide us information on their own burnout experiences while in medical school. The data we collect from this experience can help further the research on both medical student burnout and physician burnout by identifying these issues early on and addressing them early on in the medical provider’s career. You can learn more about the role-playing experience and how to get involved at the BurntOut website.