May 08, 2020

New ABA Research Describes Impact of Substance Use Disorder on Anesthesiologists

Raleigh, N.C. (May 8, 2020)

New research from the American Board of Anesthesiology expands extant knowledge on substance use disorder (SUD) among anesthesiologists, indicating considerable relapse and death rates from the condition.

“Our data suggest the urgent need for creative strategies to help prevent and treat this potentially deadly disease in physicians, an affliction which also affects their ability to care for their patients,” said David O. Warner, M.D., ABA Secretary and an author of this research.

The findings of this new research, published in Anesthesiology, show that 1.6% of U.S. anesthesiology residency graduates are expected to develop SUD that has significant consequences—being reported to a certifying body or death—over a 30-year career. Of those who survive the initial episode, the risk of at least one relapse is approximately 40%.

The most common known substances used by anesthesiologists included opioids (55%) alcohol (40%) and anesthetics/hypnotics (20%). Relapse rates were similar regardless of the type of substance used. Nearly 1 in 5 anesthesiologists who developed SUD died of this condition.

While little information exists beyond anecdotes as to how physician SUD may impact patient care, there is ample cause for concern based on the impacts of SUD on an individual’s brain and behavior, and the potential for medications intended for patient care to be diverted for personal use.

ABA Director David O. Warner, M.D.; Keith Berge, M.D.; ABA Director of Psychometrics and Research Huaping Sun, Ph.D.; ABA Chief Assessment Officer Ann Harman, Ph.D.; and Ting Wang, Ph.D., authored this research, titled “Substance Use Disorder in Physicians after Completion of Training in Anesthesiology in the United States from 1977 to 2013.” This is the third published study from the ABA on the impact of SUD on anesthesiologists. Most recently, the ABA published research on the impact of SUD on residents.

About the American Board of Anesthesiology

The mission of the American Board of Anesthesiology® (ABA) is to advance the highest standards of the practice of anesthesiology. As the certifying body for anesthesiologists since 1938, the ABA is committed to partnering with physicians to advance lifelong learning and exceptional patient care. The Board administers initial and subspecialty certification exams as well as the Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesiology® (MOCA®) program, which is designed to promote lifelong learning, a commitment to quality clinical outcomes and patient safety. Based in Raleigh, N.C., the ABA is a nonprofit organization and a Member Board of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

View publication

ABA Media Contact:

Michele Pore

(919) 745-2283