High job stress may cause some veterinarians to turn to heavy drinking, smoking or medication to cope, a German study indicates.

In a survey of more than 2,000 veterinarians in Germany, the researchers found that 8 percent reported intense psychosocial stress, while another 45 percent said they had intermediate stress.

The team found that those under heavy stress were more likely than their counterparts to binge-drink or regularly use medications like painkillers and sedatives.

In addition, highly stressed vets were more likely to say they often felt demoralized — which, in turn, was linked to greater risks of problem drinking, smoking and chronic medication use.

The findings, published online in the Journal of Occupational Medicine & Toxicology, suggest that some vets turn to substance use as a way to deal with stress.

"That means that it would be important to reduce psychosocial stress in the veterinary profession," said lead researcher Melanie Harling, of the Institution for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention in the Health and Welfare Services in Hamburg, Germany.

Typically, she told Reuters Health, vets in private practice face the stress of competing with others for business, being on-call at all times, going on home visits and, often, dealing with farmers and ranchers who are themselves under economic pressures.

In this study, Harling pointed out, vets in private practice were more likely to report high stress levels than those working in other settings, like government agencies or industry.

In general, the study found, the main sources of the vets' stress were time pressures due to heavy workloads, difficulty balancing professional and personal life, and dealing with "difficult customers."

It's possible, according to Harling, that addressing those stressors would reduce problem drinking, smoking and chronic medication use.

She added, however, that this is the first study to look at the link between psychological stress and substance use in this profession, and more research is necessary to confirm the findings.