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Use of psychoactive substances in three medical specialties: anaesthesia, medicine and surgery


In order to determine the prevalence of psychoactive substance use in three specialty groupings, 1,624 questionnaires were sent to physicians in medicine, surgery and anaesthesia; all had trained at the same academic institution. A response rate of 57.8% was achieved. Comparison of prevalence of impairment rates showed no differences between Surgery (14.4%), Medicine (19.9%) and Anaesthesia (16.8%). Substance abuse was clearly associated with a family history of abuse; 32.1% of the abusers had a family history of such abuse compared with 11.7% of the non-abusers. Increased stress at various career stages did not appear to increase substance abuse; problem areas during medical life times were similar for each specialty. Substances most frequently used were marijuana (54.7%), amphetamines (32.9%); and benzodiazepines (25.1%). Seventy-three used psychoactive drugs which were non-prescribed. Drug counselling programmes were judged inadequate by most. Use of alcohol and drugs by faculty members was reported by a number of respondents.


Dans le but de déterminer l’habitude des produits psychoactifs chez trois groupes de spécialistes, 1,624 questionnaires ont été expédiés à des internistes, des chirurgiens et à des anesthésistes. Tous avaient reçu leur formation à la même institution. Le taux de réponse a été de 57,8%. La fréquence ne diffère pas entre chirurgiens (14,4%), internistes (19,9%) et anesthésistes (16,8%). L’usage des toxiques est nettement associée à une histoire familiale d’abus des drogues; 32,1% des utilisateurs avaient une histoire familiale positive comparativement à 11,7% des non utilisateurs. L’augmentation du stress à des moments variés de la vie profesionnelle ne semble pas influer sur l’abus des toxiques; les périodes de difficultés professionnelles sont identiques pour les trois disciplines. Les substances les plus utilisées sont la marihuana (54,7%), les amphétamines (32,9%) et les benzodiazépines (25,1%). Soixantetreize des répondants ont fait usage de médicaments psychoactifs non prescrits. La plupart ont jugé les programmes d’aide inadéquats. L’utilisation de l’alcool et des drogues par le personnel médical a été rapportée par une certain nombre de répondants.


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Correspondence to Irving Lutsky.

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Lutsky, I., Hopwood, M., Abram, S.E. et al. Use of psychoactive substances in three medical specialties: anaesthesia, medicine and surgery. Can J Anaesth 41, 561–567 (1994).

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Key words

  • alcohol: abuse
  • Analeptics: amphetamine abuse
  • anaesthetists: substance abuse
  • Ataractics: abuse, marijuana
  • hypnotics: benzodiazepines, abuse
  • physicians: impaired