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Doctors Are Not Exempt From Substance Use Disorders. Learn About Treatment Options For Doctors and Nurses.
Becoming a doctor is a career choice that comes with a lot of stress. Working as a doctor means long hours and intense demands on your life. The job also provides easy access to drugs.
For some doctors the pressure of the job, and the use of meds to help smooth out the stress of the day, can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD). Doctors are not immune to using drugs or alcohol to help reduce stress. In fact, a report in USA Today states that more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals have an SUD.
This is a somewhat scary statistic, as we place so much trust in our doctors and nurses. We might even put our very lives in their hands. To know that our doctor could be an addict is an upsetting thought.
But medical providers are human, and, just like us, have limits to the amount of stress they can handle. As with any career, learning how to manage stress and pressure is key to doctors being able to avoid substances. New coping skills can help them do just that.
Data on Substance Problems Among Doctors and Nurses
Healthcare workers struggle with substance abuse at about the same rate as the public. When it comes to opioids, though, doctors have a much higher rate of substance misuse. A study compiled by Lisa Merlo, Ph.D. shows that out of 55 doctors in the study who had an SUD, 60% had misused prescription meds.
Nurses also have high rates of substance abuse. According to an article from the Journal of Clinical Nursing, up to 20% of all nurses struggle with an SUD. The rates are higher among nurses in certain specialties, such as oncology, E.R., and mental health.
Reasons Why Doctors Misuse Substances
Doctors and nurses may divert a controlled substance, like opioids, sedatives, or stimulants, for their own private use. In fact, one reason doctors have high rates of opioid abuse is because they have easy access to these drugs.
As well, about 87% of doctors engage in self-prescribing. This is when a doctor will prescribe meds for themselves. Many doctors admit that their prescribing privileges led to the SUD.
Some of the reasons a doctor might self-prescribe include:
- Stress. A substance is used to ease work and life stressors.
- Pain. Doctors are just like many others who rely on pain meds after surgery or an injury. They, too, can also fall victim to the addictive properties of the drugs.
- Mental health issues. Doctors who struggle with anxiety and depression are more prone to self-medicating with drugs.
Lack of sleep, fatigue, and being exposed to death and suffering can all lead to the need to divert meds. After all, doctors are not immune to mental distress or trauma.
How Doctor Burnout Can Fuel an SUD
Since Covid-19 struck the world we have become all too aware of the immense pressure our healthcare workers are under. While all levels of healthcare professionals have felt the effects of the pandemic, doctors and nurses bear the heaviest burden. And among these, E.R. doctors have the highest stress levels of all.
It comes as no shock to learn that many E.R. Doctors and nurses manage their job stress with meds. Burnout leads to long, stressful days along with the mental health effects from dealing with so many sick people.
Some data suggests that medical workers are more prone to using a substance to self-medicate than many other professional fields. Not only do they need to manage stress, but may also look for a way to handle the emotional toll.
Warning Signs a Doctor or Nurse May Have an SUD
Doctors may be high functioning addicts. This allows them to still provide healthcare services without it being known to others that they have a substance problem. In time, though, the symptoms will become evident.
Some of the signs that a healthcare professional has an SUD might include:
- Excess absences from work.
- Taking long breaks during a shift.
- Show up to work on days off.
- Forgets deadlines or appointments.
- Insists on administering injected drugs to patients.
- Patient and staff complaints about behaviors.
- Poor record keeping.
- Drug shortages.
- Worsening writing and charting skills.
- Mood swings.
- Lack of impulse control.
- Spending much time around the drug supply.
- Decline in hygiene.
- Trouble with memory, mental confusion.
- Hand tremors.
- Excessive sweating.
Treatment for Physicians
Healthcare workers that have acquired an SUD must, for the sake of their career, their health, and their patients, seek treatment. There are treatment programs that adhere closely to privacy laws and will ensure complete confidentiality.
A rehab program will provide these services:
- Medical detox. Detox is the first step in recovery. This is the process during which the substance vacates the body. Trained detox experts provide treatments to reduce the pain of withdrawal symptoms.
- One on one therapy sessions. During therapy sessions the doctor will learn how their thought patterns have led to drug abuse and addiction. The therapist guides them to reshape these thought patterns and avoid substance use.
- Group therapy. Small group sessions promote peer support during the treatment process. Members will discuss their own stories, feelings, and challenges.
- Family therapy. Family-focused groups provide family members with the tools to improve functioning and to move forward in a positive manner.
- Classes. Classes are focused on teaching clients about how the substances impact the brain. They will learn helpful recovery skills and create relapse prevention plans.
- Dual diagnosis. When a co-occurring mental health challenge is present it must also be treated. Both the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder are treated during the rehab program.
- Holistic. Such methods as yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation, art therapy, and fitness will add to the treatment results.
A doctor has a special obligation to address an SUD and get the treatment needed to be able to safely practice medicine again.
Capo by the Sea Addiction Treatment for Medical Professionals
When the stresses of a career in healthcare have led to a SUD, Capo by the Sea is here to help. Doctors and nurses are vital to us all. When someone working in the health field succumbs to an SUD it affects so many others. Seek out the very best addiction treatment for physicians available today at Capo by the Sea. Call us at (888) 529-2114.