Addiction among Medical Professionals

As seen in the general population, a significant portion of healthcare professionals are impacted by addiction. Yet, it can be hard to spot those struggling with drug addiction, particularly in professional situations. Further, those in recovery from addiction often face discrimination in a number of ways, so getting ongoing support to remain sober can be difficult to obtain.

Healthcare and other licensed professionals recovering from substance abuse and addiction face local, state, federal and private sector policies that impose barriers to reintegration into the workplace even after addiction treatment has been sought. These include, but are not limited to, policies that restrict access to appropriate healthcare, employment, public benefits, education and training; parental rights; and housing. Regulatory agencies have an obligation and duty to see that such individuals are capable of conducting their professional duties in a manner consistent with promoting the health, safety and welfare of the public, but at what point does protecting the public safety go too far and become punitive?

The latest drug use data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, indicated that an average of 103,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and health care aides a year were abusing or dependent on illicit drugs. Various studies suggest the number could be far higher; an estimated one in 10 practitioners will fall into drug or alcohol abuse at some point in their lives, mirroring the general population.

The goal of facilitating public safety through early identification, evaluation, treatment, and monitoring are many times counterproductive to treatment and recovery. In some cases honesty regarding past treatment generates discriminatory responses on the part of an employer or potential employer. Less qualified individuals may be considered better risks than a recovering applicant with a history of addiction and treatment.

Discriminatory policies discourage substance abusing professionals from seeking treatment. Such discrimination not only inhibits treatment, but also restricts hope for recovery and ultimately costs society untold dollars in preventable expenses. Many addiction specialists and policy-makers believe a more appropriate way to address the medical community’s drug problem is to give medical practitioners better education on preventing addiction and spotting potential impairment in colleagues. In addition, the issue should get more attention during caregivers’ training and in continuing education during their careers.

Private addiction treatment centers can help professionals identify and solve emotional, physical and spiritual issues caused by addiction in a completely confidential environment. Seeking help sooner rather than later is better for everyone, to minimize the consequences of addiction. Successful recovery is possible.