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Can Addicted Doctors Return to Practice?

An addicted doctor is a scary idea. If you know firsthand what addiction is like, you know that an addict puts his substance of choice first, ahead of everything else. The need to get high, to eliminate withdrawal and to just feel better again is overwhelming. When a doctor puts those needs first, naturally his patients suffer. The good news is that there are specialized programs designed to help physicians overcome addictions. But many people might wonder if a doctor in recovery should be trusted to practice again.
addiction and recovery process

Why Do Doctors Get Addicted?

It can be hard to understand why physicians get addicted to drugs and alcohol in the first place. They know all about the harm that substances cause and understand what addiction is and what changes occur in the brains of addicts, so why are doctors vulnerable to addiction? There are several factors, beginning with stress and long working hours. Drugs or alcohol can be ways to unwind after long days, especially days that involve difficult and life-changing decisions. Another factor is access. Doctors have access to prescription drugs that are commonly abused.

How Do Doctors With Addictions Get Help?

It can be particularly difficult to get help for a physician with an addiction. Many are fearful of asking for help because of the possibility of losing licensure or losing a job. Physician health program contacts can guide these addicted doctors into programs that are designed to help them. These programs have been shown to be successful in treating doctors and they make use of individualized treatment, support groups, family involvement and multi-disciplinary teams. They also monitor doctors over the long term.

Addicted Doctors Do Return to Work

Most states have addiction treatment centers for physicians, officially termed physician health programs or PHPs. The goal of these is not only to get doctors into recovery, but also to get them back to work, which is a controversial idea. Some may ask whether a doctor can be trusted again to be around the drugs and in the environment that led to her problem. She put her patients at risk once; would she do it again? This is an important question and one that has been studied. PHPs aim to get doctors back to work for several reasons. One is that the fear of being unable to work again is a primary reason for lack of reporting. If doctors know that they have a safe place to undergo treatment and that they will be able to practice again, they will be more likely to ask for help.

It may be a frightening idea to think that a doctor caring for you used to be addicted, but statistics show that doctors have greater abstinence rates after treatment in a PHP than the general population. The explanation may be that the stakes are higher for doctors. They have their licenses on the line as well as patients depending on them. Studies show that doctors can and should return to practice after successful addiction treatment.

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