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Does occupational distress raise the risk of alcohol use, binge-eating, ill health and sleep problems among medical doctors? A UK cross-sectional study
  1. Asta Medisauskaite1,
  2. Caroline Kamau2
  1. 1 Research Department of Medical Education, UCL, London, UK
  2. 2 Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Asta Medisauskaite; a.medisauskaite{at}


Objectives This study aims to assess the prevalence of health problems (eg, insomnia, binge-eating, substance use and ill health) among UK doctors and to investigate whether occupational distress increases the risk of health problems.

Design This study reports the analysis of data collected at the baseline stage of a randomised controlled trial (protocol #NCT02838290).

Setting Doctors were invited through medical Royal Colleges, the British Medical Association’s research panel and a random selection of NHS trusts across various UK regions.

Participants 417 UK doctors with an equivalent split of gender (48% males) and seniority (49% consultants).

Main outcomes and measures Outcomes were sleep problems (eg, insomnia), alcohol/drug use (eg, binge-drinking), ill health (eg, backache) and binge-eating (eg, uncontrollable eating). Predictor variables were occupational distress (psychiatric morbidity, burnout, job effort, work-life imbalance, coping with stress through self-blame or substances) and work factors (workplace and years practising medicine).

Results 44% of doctors binge-drank and 5% met the criteria for alcohol dependence; 24%–29% experienced negative emotions after overeating and 8% had a binge-eating disorder; 20%–61% had some type of sleep problem and 12% had severe/moderate insomnia; 69% had fatigue and 19%–29% experienced other types of ill health problems. The results show that occupational distress and job factors increase the odds of doctors using substances, having sleep problems, presenting with frequent symptoms of ill health and binge-eating. For example, burnout increased the risk of all types of sleep problems, eg, difficulty falling/staying asleep, insomnia (OR ≥1.344; p≤0.036). Even taking into consideration whether or not a doctor works in a hospital, the risk of health problems still rises when doctors have signs of occupational distress.

Conclusion Early recognition of occupational distress can prevent health problems among UK doctors that can reduce the quality of patient care because of sickness-related absence.

  • mental health
  • substance misuse
  • eating disorders

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  • Contributors AM and CK participated in the conception and design of the study. AM collected and analysed data. AM and CK were involved in the interpretation of the data and preparation of this article. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The BEI School Ethics Committee at Birkbeck, University of London, approved the study in May 2016. Participants voluntarily consented to take part in this study.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional unpublished data are available.