Medical Professionals & Addiction


Medical professionals face a high rate of substance abuse due to stress and easy access to addictive drugs.

Substance abuse has become a serious problem among medical professionals in our country. These individuals have increased access to addictive medications as well as stressful jobs that could lead them toward drug or alcohol abuse. What’s more, many individuals are afraid to seek help for an addiction even when they know they have it because they are worried about getting their licenses taken away. As a result, the issue of substance abuse and addiction among medical professionals is only getting worse.

If you are a doctor, nurse, counselor, or another type of medical professional who is abusing drugs or alcohol—or you know someone who is—seek help today.

Our treatment advisors are available to help you choose the best programs for your specific needs and to allow you to recover safely on your terms.

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Medical Professions and Addiction: How and Why It Happens

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 4.4 percent of individuals in the health care and social assistance industries admitted to past month heavy alcohol use between 2008 and 2012. However, 5.5 admitted to past month illicit drug use, which includes the nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

Unfortunately, these numbers have increased drastically over the past few years. While 10 to 15 percent of nurses, pharmacists, and home care workers are said to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, 69 percent of physicians were found to be abusing prescription drugs. Anesthesiologists have the worst record of substance abuse. As stated by a study published in the medical journal Anesthesiology, 80 percent of anesthesiology residency programs between 1991 and 2001 experienced problems with students abusing drugs or alcohol.

But why are these numbers so high and why are medical professionals more likely to abuse prescription drugs?

Medical professionals often abuse drugs and alcohol because their jobs are very stressful.

Stress is one of the leading causes of substance abuse, and those who are under pressure at work often use drugs and alcohol to cope. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are taking people’s lives into their hands, which is one of the most stressful parts of the job. Many of them decide to unwind at home with alcohol or drugs as a result. This pattern can easily lead to addiction. According to African Health Sciences, death by suicide is drastically higher for physicians than with other professionals, and this is mostly due to stress and depression.

Medical professionals also have increased access to prescription drugs for the purposes of abuse.

This is one reason doctors are more likely to abuse prescription drugs than nurses. The former profession allows the individual to write a prescription with little or no concern for the person who will be using the medication.

According to a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 10 to 12 percent of physicians developed a substance use disorder in 2009. This number has increased since then.

Anesthesiologists have the most access to prescription drugs and sometimes use the remainders of the medications they give to patients. This happens constantly in medical facilities all across the country.

Certain risk factors can always increase one’s likelihood for addiction.

A study published in Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy states that there are many risk factors associated with addiction that could cause an individual who uses drugs and alcohol to be much more likely to become addicted.

Because healthcare professionals have increased access to certain substances and stressful jobs, other risk factors being present could make one extremely predetermined for the issue of addiction.

Sadly, many people who are entrusted to help others with their health suffer from health problems of their own. Substance abuse and addiction are serious issues in this community, ones that were often overlooked in the past but are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Recognizing Addiction in Healthcare Workers

Being able to recognize addiction and substance abuse in healthcare workers isn’t always easy; these individuals are often extremely secretive about their dangerous drug or alcohol use. This is understandable since, in many instances, being found out would mean losing their license. However, it is important to be able to recognize it in others and in oneself, especially in this profession, which has caused so many people to turn to substance use and abuse.

The common signs of addiction among medical professionals are as follows:

  • The individual takes drugs without a prescription or writes prescriptions for themselves illegally.
  • They drink or use drugs to excess often and consistently.
  • They become extremely hostile when their substance abuse is discussed as an issue.
  • They isolate themselves from others, spending lots of time alone or with other users.
  • They use drugs or alcohol while alone.
  • They may either become incredibly work-focused, using drugs and alcohol as a way to wind down afterward, or they may begin to shirk their work responsibilities altogether in favor of spending more time abusing substances.
  • They use drugs or alcohol while at work or come to work under the influence.
  • They are extremely secretive in order to hide their substance abuse from their family, friends, and coworkers.
  • They experience intense mood swings for seemingly no reason (National Library of Medicine).
  • Their personal hygiene diminishes, and they no longer care about their appearance.
  • They make excuses to use drugs or alcohol, saying they need them because their job is so stressful or they are not as bad as someone else.
  • They argue they can use safely because of their medical training.
  • They are unable to stop using, even when they realize their substance abuse has caused serious problems in their personal and/or professional life.

If you begin to notice any of these signs and symptoms, there is a possibility that the individual you care about is addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, not all of these are a definite sign of addiction, except the final sign. The reason this is a clear indication of addiction is because the individual no longer has control over their use and because the substance has caused changes to the way their brain works, creating cravings and drug-seeking behavior (NIDA).

Many healthcare workers are likely to experience these problems during their careers, but a large number of them will not seek the help they need. This is a serious issue because, no matter what a person’s background, knowledge base, or profession is, it is extremely difficult to overcome addiction without the proper treatment.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Medical Professionals?

Medical professionals need to know there are treatment options available for them too, including facilities that will take their medical expertise into account as well as their need for specialized care and programs that will allow them to safely recover without fear of losing their licenses. Many individuals who seek treatment for substance abuse are able to improve their occupational functioning, as stated by the NIDA, so we must remember to provide medical professionals with the same options.

Healthcare workers from all walks of life can benefit from treatment in a professional rehab center. Often, treatment begins with detox and continues with the use of medications and behavioral therapies, in much the same way as non-healthcare professionals recover. This is a practice that has been improved over time and helped many individuals put an end to their substance abuse.

One must remember, though, that detox is not a treatment for addiction alone. Rather it provides patients a medically supervised withdrawal program that must be followed up by addiction treatment.

Healthcare workers who have struggled with substance abuse must also be screened for mental disorders.

This is common among substance abusers, and everyone who seeks help for this issue should be screened for any type of dual diagnosis.

Many medical professionals have gone through stressful experiences, including life-or-death situations, that could have led to trauma. This may be one of the reasons for a patient’s substance abuse and therefore must be addressed.

Trauma-informed care is absolutely necessary when dealing with healthcare workers.

Many individuals in this field have experienced the traumas of others and absorbed them. As a result, trauma-informed treatment for substance use disorders is necessary.

People in this field who are able to discuss the issue with their employers and seek help in order to recover can often continue practicing after there are treated. After all, many individuals are able to recover fully with the help of professional care, and this should not exclude medical professionals. The best, safest thing you can do for yourself or a loved one who is in the healthcare industry and also an addict is to find professional help in a treatment center.

Getting Help for Medical Professionals with Substance Use Disorders

We want to help you choose the best recovery program for your needs or for the needs of your loved one. Simply call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) today to speak with a treatment advisor. They will match you with detox and rehab programs that suit you or your loved one’s recovery as well as facilities that will accept your insurance plan. Call today to put an end to your substance abuse.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The CBHSQ Report. (2015). Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry.
  2. The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Inc. (2008). Addiction and Substance Abuse in Anesthesiology.
  3. African Health Sciences. (2008). An Overview of Stress in Medical Practice.
  4. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. (2009). Chemical Dependency and the Physician. 
  5. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. (2008). Risk Factors for Alcohol and Other Drug Use by Healthcare Professionals.
  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Substance Use Disorder. 
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)- How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment? 
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