It is very disturbing to consider that someone who is in charge of one’s hospital or medical care might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Considering the outsized responsibility they have for dispensing medications or performing surgeries or medical procedures, it is a wake-up call to learn that a significant number of doctors and nurses have a substance use disorder. One misinterpreted surgical order or mixed up medication dosing due to being inebriated could potential cost a patient their life.
It is important, however, to keep in mind that medical professionals are humans with the same kinds of issues that we all struggle with. There may be a mood disorder that the doctor or nurse is attempting to manage with prescription meds, or they may be using drugs to help them stay awake for double shifts or 12 hour stints. Whatever the cause, addiction treatment for healthcare professionals can help them reassert control over their lives and their profession.
How Prevalent is Addiction Among Medical Professionals?
While healthcare professionals generally struggle with substance misuse at about the same rate as the general public, when it comes to opioid (prescription painkillers), doctors have a significantly higher rate of opioid abuse. In fact, according to Lisa Merlo, Ph.D. whose research was published in the October 2013 edition of the Journal of Addiction Medicine, out of 55 physicians studied who were dealing with a substance use disorders, 60% misused prescription painkillers.
Nurses also have high rates of substance abuse. According to the Journal of Clinical Nursing, approximately 20% of all nurses struggles with addiction to drugs or alcohol. The rates are highest for nurses who specialize in oncology (42%), the psychiatric field (40%), and emergency room or critical care (38%). According to a report in USA Today, more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, and other health professionals have addiction issues, most involving opioids.
Why Do Healthcare Workers Turn to Drugs or Alcohol?
One of the reasons why healthcare workers may have higher rates of opioid misuse is simply the access they have to the drug. Self-prescribing activities, where a doctor prescribes drugs for himself, are very prevalent, with 87% of physicians involved in this. Many medical professionals admit to beginning to abuse drugs once they obtained their prescribing privileges.
Work-related stress is another possible explanation. Sleep deprivation, the stress of the job, exposure to death and suffering may all contribute to a need to self-medicate for emotional distress or trauma, especially in doctors or nurses with a genetic predisposition for addiction or a co-occurring mood disorder.
Signs a Nurse Might be Diverting Drugs
Nurses have the most hands-on exposure to drugs in the healthcare environment. They are the ones accessing the drugs at the hospital dispensary and dispensing the drugs to patients. There are some signs that a nurse might be diverting the medications for their own use, such as:
- Taking frequent bathroom breaks
- Volunteering to give out medication to other nurse’s patients
- Arriving early and leaving late, as well as coming in to the hospital on days off
- Excessive wasting of drugs
- Signing out medications for patients who had already been discharged
- Patients complaining of unrelieved pain despite the appropriate pain medication being prescribed
- Documentation discrepancies for controlled substance administration
How Addiction Among Doctors and Nurses Impacts Medical Care
There is no doubt that doctors and nurses who are abusing substances are placing the well-being of their patients at risk, as well as their own. Healthcare professionals who operate an impaired condition have the potential to inflict serious harm to an unaware patient. This can happen due to slowed motor skills, difficulties focusing and concentrating on a procedure, tremors that impact their precision in surgery, or making a medical error that can cost a patient their life because they were under the influence of a narcotic or alcohol.
When medications are diverted from the patient, the patient can suffer pain and discomfort that is the result of not receiving the complete dosage. Most patients are unaware of what the doctor has prescribed for them and are at the mercy of an honest, sober nurse to dispense the proper dosage. When the nurse shorts the dosage to use the drugs themselves, the patient suffers.
Addiction Treatment for Healthcare Professionals
Doctors are able to seek treatment for a substance addiction with their privacy protected. They do not have to disclose the problem to a medical board or colleagues. Most will choose a treatment program that provides a high emphasis on privacy and discretion, often in a remote location.
Treatment for the addiction will start with a medically monitored detox and withdrawal period, usually lasting about one week. Once the medical detox is completed, the healthcare worker will enter into the active treatment period and participate in a variety of therapeutic interventions. These will include:
- Group psychotherapy
- Individual psychotherapy
- Family or couples therapy if warranted
- Lectures or classes on the addiction process and how it impacts the brain and behavior
- Treatment for a coexisting mental health issue or mood disorder
- Adjunct therapies such as EMDR, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and exercise activities
Medical professionals are very vulnerable to relapse due to their daily exposure to drugs in their work environment. A doctor who has reported the substance use disorder to the physician health program in their particular state can be provided with ongoing monitoring for about five years following treatment. The monitoring will include random drug testing and workplace surveillance, which can act as powerful deterrents and thus help avoid relapse.
Capo By the Sea Provides Addiction Treatment for Healthcare Professionals
Capo By the Sea offers addiction and dual diagnosis treatment for medical professionals struggling with a substance use disorder. Capo By the Sea is situated in a beautiful seaside community called Dana Point, California, offering the beachy ambiance that is so conducive to healing the mind, body, and spirit. Each client is treated with respect and compassion at Capo By the Sea, and scientifically proven therapeutic interventions offer the best chance for full recovery from addiction. For more information about this luxury program, please contact Capo By the Sea at 888-529-2114.