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Risky alcohol use in Danish physicians: Associated with alexithymia and burnout?

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BACKGROUND: Alcohol abuse may be elicited by psychological problems and can influence physicians' health and patient safety. To act on it, we need knowledge on the prevalence of the disorder and its associations with psychological factors and physicians' well-being. The aim of this study was to explore whether burnout and alexithymia are associated with risky alcohol consumption in physicians and whether burnout mediates the association between alexithymia and risky alcohol consumption.

METHODS: In this cross-sectional study, 4,000 randomly selected physicians received an electronic questionnaire by email containing the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the Maslach Burnout Inventory Human-Services-Survey (MBI-HSS) and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). A total of 1,841 physicians completed the questionnaire (46%).

RESULTS: 18.8% reached the criteria for risky alcohol consumption. The likelihood of having risky alcohol consumption was associated with high levels of alexithymia (OR=1.93, 95%CI=1.37-2.74, P<0.001). Moreover, risky alcohol consumption was associated with burnout (OR=1.86, 95%CI=1.13-3.05, P<0.014) and each individual burnout dimension: emotional exhaustion (OR=1.89, 95%CI=1.33-2.69, P<0.001), depersonalisation (OR=2.23, 95%CI=1.53-3.25, P<0.001) and low levels of personal accomplishment (OR=1.66, 95%CI=1.14-2.41, P=0.008). Mediation analysis suggested that the association between alexithymia and risky alcohol consumption was partially mediated through depersonalisation.

CONCLUSIONS: The results emphasize a need for enhancing emotional self-awareness in physicians as psychological traits, work-pressure and alcohol dependence might be self-reinforcing aspects for the individual physician. As alcohol dependence and burnout may have consequences for patient safety separately, the aggregated influence of these factors has to be examined.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2016

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