The concept of college students abusing substances on occasion isn’t a new one. It’s a sort of rite-of-passage for college students to spend their weekends binge drinking at frat parties and football game tailgates, and most people who went to college did it at least a few times. It’s a serious problem, but most people ignore it and think of it as the norm. just because everyone is doing it, however, doesn’t make it safe. The average student drinks regularly, partakes in recreational drug use on occasion, and manages to get through their coursework without issue. When it comes to med students, though, the concept takes on a new meaning.
Medical students are in school to become doctors. They’re learning how to save lives, cut bodies open, and send people home healthy and alive after terrible health issues and tragedies. The idea so many of them are using drugs and/or alcohol on a regular basis is terrifying when you stop and think about it. The person learning to operate on your premature baby or your ailing mother is the same person who was out the night before using drugs and drinking, and is still feeling the effects of that when they get to class the following morning. More and more med students are turning to substances, and people want to know why. Why are so many med students abusing drugs and alcohol?
How Many Med Students Use Drugs or Alcohol?
There isn’t a telling number as to precisely how many meds students use one or the other or both. However, a survey by the Mayo Clinic suggests that more than one-third of med students meet the criteria in place for substance abuse. More med students use, but not as much or as regularly as one-third. The number is staggering, and it’s shocking. What’s causing these students to feel the need to use drugs and/or alcohol in these exceptional numbers?
What Causes Med Students to Use Drugs or Alcohol?
Every med student is different. One might use their substance of choice as a way of letting go of some steam on the weekends, but they don’t touch it otherwise. Some might only drink or use drugs when they go home to visit their families and old friends during the holidays. The most common reasons mead students abuse substances are apply to many students.
– Help studying
– Help letting go of stress
– Emotional emptiness
– Quality of life is poor
– Stress of student loan debt
Med students work hard. There is no room for error when they learn and when they work, which means they are living with more stress than most people combined. They are in class all day, and it’s not usually the kind of class they can miss when they’re feeling sick or tired or burnt out. These classes are make or break for students going into the medical field, and it’s dangerous for them to miss. In addition to classes, many med students spend time working in hospitals or doctor offices for experiences with patients. They have internships, they have residency, and they have rotations that require long, arduous hours.
Med students often incur significant debt. Their student loans are, on average, around $180,000 upon graduation. The pressure, the debt, the workload, and the lack of sleep they deal with on a regular basis are often enough to cause students to feel they have no life. Med students aren’t able to see their families as often. They don’t have much of a social life outside of school and work, and they don’t get to spend much time with anyone who isn’t already in the medical field with them.
Overall, the stress of being a med student is what gets to them the most. Long hours mean little sleep. No sleep causes the body to stop performing at its peak, and people are more likely to get sick. They don’t have time to rest when they’re sick and in med school, so they don’t recover. Med students live a life that’s difficult at best, even though their future is quite promising.
According to national statistics, the suicide rate for medical students is approximately 9.4%. The general population in the United States is only 5.7% for people who are typically found within the same age range as med students. Financially speaking, most medical students graduate with so much debt they can’t afford to pay for it. The stress of knowing this is too much for them to handle, and substance abuse is an outlet. It’s a way out, even if it’s only for a few hours at a time.
What Med Students Can Do to Prevent This Issue
The best advice for med students is to know what they’re getting into before they make the decision to go to med school. Understanding in advance the cost, the time, the workload, the stress of telling patients they’re not going to make it, sharing with families their loved one is gone, spending so much time away from your friends and family, and having very little life can make a difference. The strong will survive, but the rest will turn to substance abuse of some sort.
Avoiding student loans, focusing, and getting sleep whenever possible also help. There’s no cure for med students who are overwhelmed, but exercise and a healthy diet do relieve stress and some pressure from people’s lives. Med students who take care of themselves are far less likely to suffer from health issues, substance abuse, and burn out.
The epidemic is astounding, and it’s concerning to people every time they have to see a doctor. The general public wants to know their doctors are smart, educated, and spent their time in school learning to the best of their ability. Knowing a third of the doctors on staff anymore might abuse drugs and/or alcohol is a terrifying thought for most patients.