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Am J Med. 1990 Apr;88(4):332-6.

Youthful precursors of alcohol abuse in physicians.

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Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.



This study was designed to determine youthful precursors of alcohol abuse in physicians.


We analyzed data from an ongoing prospective study of 1,014 male medical students enrolled in the graduating classes of 1948-1964 at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The cohort, now physicians aged 52 to 68 years, has been contacted regularly since medical school to identify major disease. In 1986, the CAGE alcoholism screening questionnaire was administered. Alcohol abuse was defined as self-admitted alcoholism, excessive consumption of four or more beverages per day on average, or a score of 2 or higher on the CAGE questionnaire.


By these criteria, 131 of 1,014 (12.9%) patients abused alcohol. Medical school precursors associated (p less than 0.05) with subsequent alcohol abuse were as follows: non-Jewish ancestry (relative odds [RO] = 3.1), lack of religious affiliation (RO = 4.1), cigarette use of one pack or more per day (RO = 2.6), regular use of alcohol (RO = 3.6), anxiety (RO = 1.8) or anger (RO = 1.8) as a reaction to stress, frequent use of alcohol in nonsocial settings (RO = 1.6), past history of alcohol-related difficulty (RO = 3.1), and maternal alcoholism or mental illness (RO = 1.9). Precursors found not to be associated with alcohol abuse included sleep habits, use of sedatives or amphetamines, interest in athletics or hobbies, and parental relationship.


Our results suggest that there are several identifiable medical school precursors of alcohol abuse in physicians.

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