Medical Doctors Avoid Addiction Treatment Fearing Workplace Repercussions

A new study reveals that a large number of medical doctors who suffer from addiction tend to self-medicate instead of seeking help for their substance use disorders. Though doctors are just as susceptible to addiction like anyone else, addiction among medical professionals remains highly stigmatized, which often prevents this group from getting help. Many doctors who suffer from addiction turn to the practice of self-medication to avoid losing their jobs and medical licenses, and to hide their substance use disorders from others.

Why Doctors Are Self-Medicating for Addiction

medical doctors

For the latest study published in the international journal Addiction Research & Theory, researchers interviewed 12 doctors that previously struggled with substance use disorders. The doctors revealed that for many years, they avoided contacting or getting help at addiction treatment centers for fear of losing their jobs and medical licenses indefinitely. Many of the doctors interviewed attempted to treat addiction on their own using prescription drugs like disulfiram that had little to no positive impact on their condition.

Study author Johanne Korsdal Sørensen of Aarhus University says a large workload is one of the top reasons doctors turn to drugs and alcohol. High expectations and high levels of work pressure are common factors that drive doctors to self-medicate, which involves using drugs and alcohol to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Many doctors also work long hours, which can lead to insomnia and sleep disorders that can worsen stress and mental illness.

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are among the top 10 professions with high rates of substance abuse. An estimated 69% of doctors abuse prescription drugs, while up to 15% of healthcare workers struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, many doctors have easy access to prescription drugs, and often have more opportunities to self-medicate using these substances compared to the general population.

What Risks Are Associated with Addiction Among Doctors?

Drugs and alcohol produce a range of different physical and psychological effects that include dizziness, confusion, tremors, blurred vision, hallucinations, and more. Doctors who treat patients under the influence can make life-threatening mistakes and decisions that can cause great harm to their patients.

A surgeon interviewed in the latest study revealed his hands shook so much while operating that he had to take beta-blockers to stop the tremors and make more precise incisions. While the beta-blockers helped the surgeon stop shaking for long enough to complete the surgery, the surgeon’s substance use disorder eventually became worse, and caused him to lose his job and medical license.

Sørensen says many doctors tend to cover up for one another rather than get involved with their colleagues’ addiction struggles, since this group commonly views addiction as a personal, private matter. But doctors who avoid addiction treatment are putting patients at great risk, and are setting themselves up for more serious, complicated problems later on. Sørensen hopes these latest study results can help break the stigma surrounding doctors and substance use disorders, and workplace addiction.

Getting Help as a Doctor Who Struggles with Addiction

Medical doctors and healthcare workers who need help fighting addiction can receive anonymous treatment just like everyone else, and recover from addiction successfully without facing repercussions. Doctors who need help recovering from addiction can benefit from recovering at an inpatient medical detox center where they can live for the duration of treatment without having to worry about daily stressors associated with work.

Doctors who join a 90-day treatment program can focus solely on overcoming drug and alcohol dependence, and receive therapy during this time that teaches them how to handle stress and anxiety without turning to substances.

Ready to begin your recovery journey? Call 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to learn about available treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.

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