Physicians and Drug Addiction

Preventing and Treating Addiction in Physicians

Posted on December 17th, 2016
Posted in Articles

Drug abuse in healthcare professionals is a real problem and one that most people never consider until it affects them. Rates of substance abuse and addiction are higher among physicians and nurses than in the general population. Reasons for this phenomenon include factors such as work stress, long hours, making choices that impact lives and that could kill someone, getting burned out at work and having access to substances of abuse. There are ways that this problem can be prevented and addressed.

Which Healthcare Professionals Are Most at Risk for Substance Abuse?

To prevent substance abuse in the healthcare profession, it helps to know more about the problem. Who is most at risk? The two biggest factors in substance abuse among doctors and nurses are stress or burnout and access to drugs. This means that physicians working in high-stress positions with long hours, like emergency room workers and surgeons, are at risk, as are anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists. The latter two groups have the most access to drugs that are susceptible to abuse.

Solutions to Physician Burnout

Access can’t be changed, as doctors need to get to risky drugs to treat their patients. However, to prevent substance abuse in this population, we can change the way doctors and nurses cope with stress and burnout. Healthcare professionals working in the highest-stress areas of medicine should have access to mental healthcare. They should be able to anonymously contact someone for help. Many doctors are too afraid to admit to needing help because of the risk of losing the license to practice.

Physicians and nurses working long hours in high-stress environments should also be given the tools for learning how to cope with stress healthfully. Exercise, meditation and adequate sleep all go a long way toward preventing and mitigating stress. More reasonable shift hours would also help doctors and nurses better cope with the difficulties of the job and get enough sleep.

Support for Addicted Physicians

When prevention has not worked and a doctor has become addicted to drugs or alcohol, she needs a way to reach out for help without the risk of losing her job or losing her license. This is where physician health programs come into play. PHPs are found in most states and are dedicated to the specific needs of physicians dealing with substance abuse. Physicians are able to get treatment at a PHP and earn the right to go back to work.

Because the PHPs target the unique needs of healthcare professionals and because they provide incentive for doctors to succeed at sobriety, they have proven to have high success rates. Most doctors going through a PHP achieve and maintain sobriety with monitoring and are able to continue practicing medicine. With PHPs and preventive measures, we can help to eradicate the problem of physician substance abuse and addiction.

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