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The Truth About Physicians and Drug Addiction
Addiction is a disease that can take hold of just about anyone. It doesn’t discriminate or care what profession you belong to or how much money you make. Usually, most people think addiction only affects society’s “lower” classes. Associating only those of the lower class with addiction is a mistake. Even those who treat patients, such as physicians, are prone to addiction themselves. It is rarely discussed in our society, mainly because they are the least suspected people. However, it can be quite common for physicians to become addicted to drugs.
This guide will explain how common physician drug abuse is, the signs that a physician is addicted, why physicians keep their addictions hidden, and how they perform in recovery. If you are a physician yourself and have an addiction, you’ll want to pay attention to the details and reach out for help.
- Can Physicians Become Addicted to Drugs?
- What are the signs that a Physician Has an Addiction?
- Why Physicians Keep Their Addiction Hidden at all Costs
- Recovery Rate of Physicians With Addiction Problems
- Why Do Physicians Develop Addiction?
Can Physicians Become Addicted to Drugs?
Physicians are prone to addiction for several reasons. One reason pertains to their actual career. Being a doctor can be incredibly stressful, where you have to treat many people every day who are suffering from a variety of ailments.
Not to mention that they may have confidence that they can handle substances better than others because they know the risks. Also, physicians can be tempted to use these medical substances since they have authorized access to them. Unfortunately, no matter how much knowledge they have about these substances, the addiction can (and will) grab hold of them if they make a consistent habit of using.
Just how common is physician addiction? It is estimated that 14% of physicians have an alcohol abuse disorder and that 6% of them have a drug abuse disorder. It is also reported that around 12% of physicians will experience some substance abuse disorder during their careers.
The rate that physicians experience substance abuse is on par with substance abuse in the general public. Some physicians also are probably more prone to addiction than others. It is said that emergency room doctors are three times more likely to abuse substances than other doctors.
Doctors in the emergency room face the number of lives they are trying to save and sometimes can’t save. Experiencing patient deaths can bring about psychological trauma. Using substances can help relieve the pain associated with that trauma, but unfortunately, this can become a habit.
Physician drug abuse can be shocking to many people, but it does highlight the power of addiction itself.
Signs that a Physician has an Addiction
Detecting physician drug abuse can usually be noticed in their operation, but problems arise at home. Some of those problems that arise at work can be one of the following: they become late, or miss appointments with patients, their quality of care are dwindling (incorrectly writing prescriptions), their behavior can become erratic, and they may even come into work under the influence.
Due to this, their patients may start to report complaints against them. Some of the problems that can arise at home include strained family relationships, financial problems, legal trouble, increased number of accidents, and loss of personal hygiene. These problems often build up over time and may go unnoticed until serious consequences are found. They may ultimately lose their medical license and their loved ones if it does not get treated.
It is difficult to see the signs of addiction in doctors because their job performance is one of the last things to suffer. Eventually, the signs will be there, and colleagues or coworkers may intervene if they become so obvious.
Every physician’s ethical duty is to make sure their colleagues are in the right state of mind, especially when treating patients. If a physician suspects their colleague is a substance abuse disorder, they should report it to the Physicians Health Program. This report can be done anonymously not to cause any conflict between the addict and his colleagues. It is important to remember that reporting these signs saves the lives of others and saves the lives of the addict.
Why Physicians Keep Their Addiction Hidden at all Costs
It may be strange to think that with all the knowledge physicians have and all the various people they have treated in the past, why wouldn’t they go to and get treated. Like with all addicts, fear plays a major component in it. They may fear losing out on their livelihood if they are found out.
Fear also sets in their concerns socially, meaning they fear how they will be seen in the eyes of others. They may feel extra shame because, as stated before, they have all this knowledge about substance abuse, yet they still manage to become an addict. They may also feel that getting treatment could do themselves since they are medically trained.
However, the problem is that the addict has to separate themselves from being the physician and now a patient.
These concerns lead physicians further into self-isolation, where they turn to drugs for relief. This sort of behavior can extend towards other people in their lives. Even if a doctor is suspected by their family or coworkers, they may keep it to themselves, known as “conspiracy of silence.” They don’t want to risk the physician’s job, which supports the family.
This stress can accumulate in the house, causing tension to rise and making the physician use more substances. Addiction is a tricky situation already, but it is even trickier in a physician’s case. With that being said, treatment is not impossible for the physician; they too can be treated with confidentiality so they won’t have to worry about what others may think or fear that they will lose their job.
Recovery Rate of Physicians
When doctors on drugs and alcohol get treatment for their substance disorder, they recover quite well. It is reported that their abstinence rates are between 74% and 90%, resulting in higher than average success rates. This could be because of several factors: they are experts in the medical field, so they probably know how to do all required to do effectively. Their experience treating patients can give them an advantage when going through their treatment.
Another reason could be that their profession is on the line, acting as a motivating anchor. They know that if they cannot get treated, they can risk their licensure. But, like with all addicts. They truly want to recover, which makes their abstinence attainable.
Doctors who have drug abuse will go through the same programs any other addict will. Depending on how severe their substance abuse disorder is, they will partake in inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Inpatient treatment requires those to stay in a recovery facility for an extended period to recover; usually, those who have become impaired with their addiction end up here. Outpatient treatment allows patients to commute to a recovery facility while still living in their own homes. But they will still participate in the same basic programs regardless of whether they are doing inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Some of those programs a person struggling with addiction can attend will be individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, 12 step programs, relapse prevention, and other forms of behavioral and psychotherapy.
Once a physician can complete their treatment program, they can continue to do the job they love.
Doctors who experience addiction and go through proper recovery do practice in the medical field again.
Why Do Physicians Develop Addiction?
Physician addiction may be incomprehensible for some people. Your average person may think that doctors, with all the knowledge and education, that they have should know not to abuse drugs. However, people should remember that doctors are humans and that addiction is a disease that can affect them.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and this should be discussed more. Doctors should not fear coming out with a substance abuse disorder.
If you are a physician yourself and have begun to realize you have a substance abuse disorder, reach out for help to start your road to recovery. It’s time to save your life and your career.
Several recovery centers across the nation will make sure everything is confidential. You won’t have to worry about people finding out and risking your livelihood.
The Addiction Helpline is free. Dial (888) 906-0952 and press 1.
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Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 12/22/2021
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