Making it Easier for Physicians to Self-Report Addiction

Posted on September 25th, 2015

Imagine you are a doctor. You’re responsible for the health, safety and sometimes the lives of your patients. A wrong decision or a small mistake could be devastating. You work long hours and carry debt from years of medical school. The stress of being a physician can be overwhelming for some individuals, and while most cope in healthful ways, others turn to substance abuse. Doctors face the fear of not being able to practice anymore, which prevents many from self-reporting a problem with drugs or alcohol. Thanks to physician health programs or PHPs, there is help for addicted medical doctors and self-reporting is more realistic.

Physicians and Addiction

The educational demands, long working hours and daily stresses of being a doctor lead too many of these professionals to develop substance use disorders. Rates of addiction and substance abuse are higher among physicians than the general population because of the stress and pressure, but also because of access. Doctors have medications at their fingertips. Anesthesiologists (doctors who sedate patients) are particularly vulnerable because of the kinds of drugs they have easy access to.

The Fear of Self-Reporting

We can explain why more doctors struggle with addiction than people in other professions, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. When you put yourself in the care of a physician, especially a surgeon, you are entrusting that person to care for you to the best of their ability. If that doctor has been abusing substances, mistakes could be made, and those mistakes could be deadly.

It is the serious nature of the consequences of being an addict that prevents many doctors from self-reporting and asking for help. Physician treatment programs are available, but not all professionals realize that they have this option. They fear that by admitting to having a problem with drugs or alcohol, they will lose the ability to practice medicine. They also may fear the criticism of their peers.

Addiction Treatment Centers for Physicians

The solution to the dual problem of too many doctors having substance abuse problems and too few willing to admit to it is the development of PHPs, physician health programs. Each state has its own program, but all follow similar guidelines and have the same goal: to get the doctor clean and back to work. Instead of suspending medical licensing indefinitely, PHPs allow physicians to get the treatment they need and to work toward being able to practice again. This is a huge relief to many doctors who feared never being able to work after admitting to an addiction. For an addicted physician, PHPs provide a life line. If you are a physician struggling with addiction or you know someone who is, now is the time to contact your state’s PHP. It will be the best decision you make for yourself and your patients.

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