When Doctors Are Addicted to Drugs
The idea of doctors as drug addicts is troubling. To think that your doctor could be high or suffering symptoms of withdrawal while treating you is terrifying. The unsettling truth is that doctors abuse drugs and become addicts at greater rates than the general population. There are many reasons for this, including stress and access to drugs, but there are also serious consequences. Thankfully there are physician health programs for addiction that can get doctors sober and back on track.
How Do Doctors Become Addicted to Drugs?
Doctors have very stressful careers. The long hours and pressure to succeed begin in medical school. As residents and interns, they work long hours and learn on the job while making life-and-death choices for patients. Doctors with the most stress include surgeons and emergency room doctors who have to make crucial and quick decisions multiple times during a long work shift. Some of these doctors turn to drugs to find relief from the stress.
Another reason that doctors are more likely to abuse drugs is access. Doctors abuse prescription drugs more often than people in the general population because they can get them more easily. For example, some of the highest rates of drug abuse and addiction are among anesthesiologists ─those doctors with access to the drugs that sedate people and which are highly susceptible to abuse.
Consequences of Doctor Drug Addiction
It’s important to understand not only why doctors are at risk for addiction, but also how it impacts patients. When a doctor is abusing drugs, she is not just harming herself; she is also putting her patients at risk. Addicts don’t always make rational choices, and if a doctor is having a craving, she may use drugs even if it will impair her ability to treat a patient effectively. On the other hand, if a doctor can’t get drugs, she may experience withdrawal, which can also affect how she treats patients. A trembling hand could mean the difference between life and death during surgery.
Treating Addicted Doctors
The good news is that there are ways that doctors can get help for drug addiction. It’s harder for them than for most people to admit to having a problem. There is a great amount of fear for an addicted doctor that he won’t be able to practice medicine ever again if he seeks treatment for addiction. A physician help program is an option that can get a doctor treatment and allow him to be able to practice medicine again in the future.
Most states have a physician health program. These facilities are only for doctors, who, after treatment, can earn the right to again treat patients. These programs are highly effective at helping this vulnerable population because they are tailored to the unique needs of doctors. With more awareness of the issue of doctor drug addiction and the resources designed to help them, both doctors and patients will benefit.