When a Medical Professional Shows up to Work Drunk

Alcohol abuse among physicians is a common problem that can have potentially catastrophic consequences for patients. Physicians who examine or treat patients while intoxicated can make life-threatening mistakes. Even though the problem is well-known, few patients, and even fewer physicians report colleagues who show up to work under the influence of alcohol.

The Size and Scope of the Problem

Officially, it is estimated that 10-12% of medical professionals will develop a problem with substance abuse at some point in their careers. Of these, one in every ten is a physician, and one in every five is a nurse. However, it should be noted that the official rate is likely much lower than the unofficial rate due in part to lack of reporting and the fact that many healthcare professionals hide their problems with drugs or alcohol from colleagues.  

Alcoholism among healthcare professionals occurs at a significant rate that should give anyone pause the next time they seek medical care. While stress and the pressures of the job are the most commonly cited causes for alcohol abuse, others include mental health issues, job burnout, family problems, and exhaustion.  

Dangers of Drunk Doctors in Illinois

Intoxicated physicians can miss a diagnosis. A drunk doctor can misdiagnose a patient with the wrong health condition. In both cases, this can delay treatment for an underlying health condition. If the condition is a progressive issue, such as cancer, lung disease, or neurological disorder, it can complicate treatment options and reduce the potential for a positive outcome. 

It is not just drunk doctors, either. Drunk nurses, anesthesiologists, and other medical professionals can make grievous mistakes while under the influence of alcohol. These individuals can administer the wrong medication, miscalculate a dose, forget about a designated treatment, or misapply monitoring and other safety equipment. These potentially fatal errors are negligent mistakes that are entirely preventable. 

Reporting Drunk Doctors

The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics requires all physicians to notify all relevant authorities regarding known hazardous behaviors of colleagues. This includes knowledge of physicians who are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse problems.

The AMA estimates that approximately 33% of physicians know of colleagues substance abuse problems, yet choose not to report these issues. Many who choose not to report cite the belief that others will file the report, while some cite fear of retribution from colleagues or the physician in question.