Addiction among doctors rises


Alcohol and drug addiction is on the increase among doctors, with more than 70 per cent who attended a Medical Council health committee suffering addiction problems, a Medical Council annual conference was told yesterday.

Dr Richard Brennan, chairman of the Medical Council health subcommittee, said 21 of the 35 doctors referred to the committee this year were suffering from addictions. A further three doctors had addictions plus mental disability and one had an addiction and a physical disability.

The health subcommittee provides support and also monitors doctors with physical or mental disability. Doctors can be referred to it by Medical Council fitness-to-practise committees or by third parties, or can self-refer.

Nine of the doctors seen by the committee last year had a mental disability, Dr Brennan said, and one had a neurological disability. Nearly half of those with addictions were misusing drugs, four had alcohol problems and eight had drugs and alcohol problems.

Dr Brennan said in the past there was a 50/50 division between referred doctors with mental illness and those with addictions. However, they were now seeing more “addictions and substance abuses”.

Some 16 of the doctors who attended were GPs, 16 were junior doctors and three were consultants. Many young doctors found difficulties moving from student to a role with responsibility, he said, and they may also have experienced traumas they were not prepared for such as a patient dying in their care. “We need to make sure our curriculum prepares doctors for emotionally difficult consultations.”

Dr Íde Delargy, chairwoman of the Sick Doctors’ Scheme, which provides healthcare and support for doctors with substance misuse problems, said demands on doctors can be relentless. They can lead to burnout, stress and depression.

Doctors, perhaps with additional stressors or vulnerabilities, might initially “drift into substances” to self-medicate which could lead to addiction.

A survey for the Medical Council by Behaviours and Attitudes Ltd was also presented, finding doctors were the most trusted professionals in Ireland.