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?
Check in with yourself on our self-check page where you can track your burnout status and well-being over time.
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 Lift, medical students are immersed in a virtual reality environment where they practice coping strategies to improve resilience. The Lift 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.