At the first international conference of its kind, in Ireland this weekend, there were calls for the UK government to help the silent mass of professionals who were “functioning 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.”
Research suggests 15-24% of lawyers will suffer from alcoholism during their careers, while the British Medical Association estimates that one in 15 healthcare professionals will develop an addiction problem. Doctors are three times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than the general population.
One indicator of the growing problem is the rise in the popularity of “rehab tourism”. Reports from private healthcare companies indicate a growing number of “mental health tourists” – professionals seeking treatment abroad.
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”
Source: Guardian Society 13-11-2011