Physician Heal Thyself Healthcare Professionals & Addiction

Physician Heal Thyself: Healthcare Professionals & Addiction

26 Feb 2016 Addiction

Healthcare professionals are at significant risk of developing a substance use disorder, and they face special challenges in treatment and recovery. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services points to research estimating that between ten and 15 percent of all healthcare professionals are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Additionally, the majority of license revocations and other disciplinary actions among healthcare workers are related to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

Healthcare Professionals at Risk

Doctors, nurses, EMTs and other healthcare workers prescribe and administer drugs on a daily basis. For some, the constant exposure and easy accessibility to any number of psychoactive drugs can pose a problem. The tendency to self-medicate various ailments can leave healthcare workers vulnerable to drug abuse, addiction and dependence, and an intimate knowledge of drugs may offer a false sense of control over their drug use.

Stress and trauma are two major triggers for drug abuse, and healthcare workers experience a great deal of both. Witnessing trauma on a daily basis is par for the course for many EMTs and other healthcare professionals, and stress levels can skyrocket very quickly in the medical field.

Using drugs or alcohol to combat stress or to ease the anxiety and other symptoms that often follow exposure to trauma may seem to help for the short-term, but in many cases, self-medicating will lead to addiction, particularly since procuring certain drugs of abuse is so easy for many healthcare workers and the ongoing underlying stress and anxiety aren’t being addressed in constructive ways.

Challenges in Treatment and Recovery

Healthcare workers aren’t as likely as other populations to seek help for a substance use disorder due to the fear of disciplinary action, which could include license revocation. And yet without professional help, the addiction will likely only get worse. This is a frightening prospect, as mistakes are more likely to be made when a healthcare worker is under the influence on the job.

Healthcare workers in recovery face a number of challenges as well, including repeated exposure to stress and trauma, long working hours, being in close proximity to a wide range of drugs, and feelings of guilt and shame, particularly if co-workers are aware of the addiction.

The Importance of Getting Help

Drug use usually escalates if it’s not addressed, and for medical professionals, this means an increased risk of making mistakes that could endanger others’ lives. If you’re a medical professional with an addiction, getting help before your drug use leads to injury or death, the revocation of your license or a black mark on your professional reputation is crucial for both public safety and preventing the addiction from destroying your career.

A high-quality treatment program geared toward healthcare workers will offer the best chance of recovery. This type of program will address the unique challenges and issues faced by addicted individuals in your profession, including the presence of co-occurring mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In many cases, treatment will include therapy sessions or psychoeducational classes that address licensing or disciplinary issues as well as offer practical solutions for restoring your career or repairing your reputation.

Trying to hide your addiction and coping with the added stress of doing so can considerably reduce your quality of life and sense of well-being, but you can restore both by engaging in a high-quality treatment program and ending your cycle of addiction once and for all.

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