Alcoholism Among Professionals On The Rise, Warn Experts

Healthcare experts are calling for urgent action to be taken to tackle the issue of rising levels of alcoholism among high-profile professionals, including doctors, dentists, vets and lawyers.

Research suggests that up to 24% of lawyers will suffer from alcoholism at some point during their careers.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has estimated that one in 15 doctors will develop an addiction problem at some point and that they are three times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than the general population.

At Ireland's first international behavioural health conference this weekend, experts called on the UK government to help the group they are referring to as 'functional alcoholics'.

Rory O'Connor, the UK co-ordinator of health support programmes for dentists and veterinary surgeons, told the Observer that Britain was turning a blind eye to a huge problem.

He said: "There are serious issues regarding health professionals accessing appropriate help for mental health issues and there are serious issues in the treatment that is out there for them."

A knock-on effect of the problem has been a surge in 'rehab tourism' whereby professionals seek recovery treatment abroad to avoid being recognised.

Alistair Mordey, who runs a substance abuse clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said that demand for treatment from doctors was growing at twice the rate of any other occupations.

He added: "We are seeing a lot of professionals coming in, particularly from London. They are in workplaces where you really wouldn't want them to be."

O'Connor said: "That is hardly surprising, as they can afford it. These are people functioning with varying degrees and levels of impairment and not likely to seek help among their peers. They can't go to the hospital down the road where everyone will know them, can they? It's one reason why they are such a hard-to-reach group.

"If you ask the man in the street what an alcoholic is, they'll generally say a down and out, but 96% of people with addictions actually function quite well most of the time. They are captains of industry, medical directors, vets, dentists... and we need to tackle it and to look at the acceptance that has been going on in their regulatory bodies."

Speaking at the conference, he said: "From an economic perspective, ignoring this issue is not a very wise thing to do, and from a public safety aspect it's not wise to have people out there who are practising while impaired through addiction."

He added: "Health professionals are generally not good at seeking help for themselves, mainly because they see it very much as their role to help others. There is also immense shame, a stigma still attached to a perceived weakness like addiction."