Every single day people suffering from addiction become patients getting treated and starting a new course of life. These patients are met with the best in addiction treatment that the world has to offer, as new programs and treatment types frequently emerge and become commonplace resources for those in need of help. The more programs that exist to provide help to addicted individuals, the more need there is of healthcare professionals in the substance abuse field.
While patients are going through up-to-date methods to attain sobriety, those of us who are present every day in the field, treating the addicted, are faced with a lesser-known realm of substance abuse and addiction.
Chemical dependency from the perspective of those who heal—doctors, nurses, and even therapists—is a rampant and growing issue in healthcare. We, as practitioners are often faced with an internal debate that leads us down the road of self-medication. The growing pharmaceutical industry often makes this issue ever-present, as samples of medications are readily accessible, and addictive substances can be had by anyone able to write out a simple prescription.
If you, as a healthcare professional, are facing substance abuse, don’t delay in getting help for chemical dependency – you could endanger patient lives, lose your license, and incur serious legal and financial consequences. Your physical and mental health is also at stake as the disease of addiction progresses. Though it may not be easy to accept your status as one who is abusing drugs and has now formed a dependency, you must evaluate what you know of addiction, and make it a priority to find acceptance in your error and push yourself toward a better course of action for your personal problems.
Commonality In The Field
The easiest way to approach your own problem when gauging whether or not you are in need of professional intervention is to take a look at the numbers which may represent you and what you’re facing.
It is estimated that between 167 and 315 million people abuse illicit drugs, worldwide. With a bit more than 850,000 licensed and practicing physicians in the US, an estimated 15 percent will incur an addiction or a substance use disorder at some point in their career. That means that around 127,500 physicians will likely need some form of intervention or treatment, else face the issue themselves.
It has also been noted that the average length of illicit drug use by physicians before they seek treatment of any kind is between 6 and 7 years. Those in anesthesiology as well as those who work in the ER have the largest numbers of users, with primary substances of choice being alcohol and opioids. Those who complete treatment—around 50 percent of those who enter—have high success rates, with 91 percent of healthcare professionals returning to work. Addiction treatment among physicians shows great success, which is often attributed to the enormity of what a practicing physician may lose (practicing license, financial security, etc.) if unable to return to work.
With every fact lain out before you, you can now ask yourself if you do, indeed, fall under the category of an addicted healthcare professional. It may sound like something you’ve heard a thousand times before, but it likely has never been directed at you, especially not by you. So ask yourself, do you need treatment? Could you benefit from the many medications that could ease you toward living drug-free, such as Suboxone? Or could it be that a 30-day stay in a residential program is the best for you and your issue?
Coming To Terms
“It’s always better to deal with it and come forward and let people know you’re having trouble. Own it now – and it will be a lot less trouble in the long run,” says Gregory Skipper, M.D., who led Alabama’s Physician Health Program and currently works with impaired doctors, pilots and other safety-sensitive practitioners as Director of Professional Health Services for Promises Treatment Centers.
The stigma of addiction still keeps many healthcare professionals from seeking help, or reporting impaired colleagues. But there’s growing advocacy to view substance abuse through the lens of science – with today’s understanding of addiction as a chronic (but treatable) relapsing brain disease. State associations are becoming more active in providing resources for impaired members, and licensing boards are less punitive as they insist on intensive treatment and monitoring.
“I believe more [state licensing boards] are accepting addiction as the primary disease that it is and not a “moral” issue,” says Charlie Broussard, RPh, Editor of Pharmacists Recovery Network (PRN), a national repository of resources for impaired pharmacists.
It can be said, however, that a healthcare professional who is facing addiction and is in need of treatment can—just as anyone else—seek treatment in any type of appropriate setting. It may be more prudent that a doctor, whose schedule is less forgiving, begin treatment in an intensive outpatient program that allows for dedication to work to be balanced with intervention in the form of cognitive behavioral therapies and medically-assisted withdrawal.
Further treatment can be had in the form of inpatient care, or anything from holistic help to luxury rehabilitation.
Rewards of Recovery
Lisa B., a Kentucky pharmacist, is one of more than 20 million Americans in recovery from addiction. She lost her license for six months in 2004 after abusing opioids at work, then contemplated suicide. “I was so filled with shame and guilt and remorse,” she says. “I had this picture perfect life on the outside, but it was anything but.”
Lisa successfully re-entered the pharmacy profession after a 5 ½ year program of treatment and monitoring. Now nine years sober, she urges other impaired professionals to self-report their addiction and get immediate help.
“If they do that, they can avoid many of the consequences I had to suffer – being caught by the law, for one. If I had turned myself in voluntarily, it would not have had to go to the Board of Pharmacy . . . it would not have been a public case.”
In recovery, Lisa found kindred souls who helped change her trajectory. “After I was caught and finally asked for help, I was suddenly surrounded by people just like me, who let me know that I had a disease, and led me to a program and way of life in which my obsession to drink or take drugs has been lifted,” she says. “It requires daily maintenance, yet I am able to enjoy my life and my career again. In fact, my life today is beyond any of my wildest dreams.”
If you are struggling in your profession, as it allows for drug use and abuse to seep into your personal life, causing well-recognized addiction, make the right choice to seek assistance. There is no shame in overcoming an issue as prevalent and life-altering as addiction. Facing it head on and accepting reality is key and should be the first step you take in the right direction. The next step is to utilize the many resources that DrugRehab.org can provide you with.
Below are programs and groups, organized by field, that help people just like you every day. Outpatient programs are available for immediate intervention in your life, while more intensive treatments can be sought out, as well. If you’re able to make a major change in your life by turning toward recovery, it is worth putting your career on hold and checking yourself into treatment. Take a look at your life and pursue help today.
Addiction Treatment Resources for Healthcare Workers
Following are resources for healthcare practitioners who struggle with addiction. Please check your state peer assistance program for additional services/support.
Nurse Anesthetists in Recovery
A national network of nurse anesthetists who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. AIR is under the umbrella of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). AIR also sponsors two e-groups: the AIR for Sobriety Support Group, a moderated forum of CRNAs/student nurse anesthetists who are in recovery; and Partners in Recovery (PAIR), which offers support for their loved ones.
This is a member service of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) and is not connected to any Boards of Nursing. The AANA website includes state-specific peer support resources, tips on how to recognize an impaired colleague and links to treatment centers for healthcare professionals.
Nurses in Recovery
Recovery mentoring and relapse prevention services for individual nurses; provides impaired nurses with consults on job-related issues, and referrals to treatment, support groups and legal resources. Conducts education and development services for nursing schools and other entities.
Provides resources for peer assistance, specialty practice areas in nursing and links to national organizations on drug and alcohol abuse.
NURSES IN RECOVERY Forum
Online forum restricted to healthcare professionals in recovery from addiction. To join, send an e-mail to: [email protected] and type the word SUBSCRIBE (no quotes) in the message line.
Information, advice and inspiration for nurses battling addiction. Includes a daily blog, addiction Q&As, online discussion forums and more.
Wealth of information on addiction in the nursing profession. Includes a nurse self-survey for chemical dependency risk, an addiction recovery blog, online support resources for impaired professionals and articles about substance abuse in nursing.
This is the website for noted chemical dependency expert Paula Davies Scimeca, RN, MS, author of “Unbecoming a Nurse: Bypassing the Hidden Chemical Dependency Trap” and “From Unbecoming a Nurse to Overcoming Addiction,” featuring the personal stories of 29 nurses in recovery (representing 20 states).
Pharmacists in Recovery
State-by-state information on peer assistance programs for impaired pharmacists and student pharmacists. Includes stories of recovery and inspiration, an online discussion group for state PRN programs, and student outreach for public education on addiction.
The website has logged more than 47,000 visits since its launch in 2003, says Broussard, an Ohio pharmacist who developed the site and has 30+ years of experience in the field of chemical dependency. “The website is for all to use, and I do not accept outside contributions, so no political influences,” Broussard says. “My goal was to collect the most up-to-date information from the different states, schools and organizations and have it available for those in need. The big change is I now include information for student pharmacists looking for help.”
Pharmacists are accepted as full members of IDAA, a 12-step fellowship of more than 6,000 recovering healthcare professionals.
Members are doctoral level (M.D., Pharm.D., etc.) practitioners who support each other in sobriety. From the IDAA website: “. . .specific issues do arise for healthcare professionals that are hard to deal with in regular AA/Al-Anon meetings. Many of these issues are explored in the safe environment of the IDAA annual meetings and in the online email-based meetings . . . There are no dues or fees for IDAA membership and the only requirement is being a doctor who desires to stay sober and healthy.”
Addiction Treatment and Recovery for Physicians
Information on state physician health programs for doctors with substance use disorders and mental and physical illness. Includes contact/staff information and monitoring requirements. FSPHP is a non-profit organization that assists state programs in their quest to protect the public, while advocating for physicians’ health.
REACHING OUT TO AN IMPAIRED PHYSICIAN (AAFP Journal Article):
Advice on how to effectively address a colleague’s impairment; overview of the process to identify, intervene and treat physicians with substance use disorders. Includes recommendations on successful interventions.
12-step fellowship of physicians and pharmacists who support each other in sobriety.
Dental Professionals in Recovery
A 130-page handbook from the American Dental Association (ADA) on programs for impaired dental professionals. Covers intervention, treatment, legal issues and advice for dentists who want to help their colleagues. Reviews peer assistance models and lists treatment centers specializing in healthcare professionals.
Includes link to state contacts for impaired dentists; see also websites for state dental societies (treatment programs vary)
Insightful article from the Academy of General Dentistry (author Eric K. Curtis, DDS) on addiction in the dental profession.
General Resources for Addiction Recovery
SELF-TESTS: AM I AN ALCOHOLIC? AM I DRUG-ADDICTED?
These simple online self-assessments are designed to help you determine if you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Developed by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Founded in 1944, NCADD provides support for those who are confronting addiction. More than 700,000 people contacted NCADD and its affiliates for help in 2013.
Online discussion group for healthcare professionals battling chemical dependency.
Florida-based radio program about America’s prescription painkiller epidemic; free podcasts available on the website. Topics range from the dangers of “study drugs” to the spread of Oxycontin and other narcotics as popular street drugs.
SUPPORT GROUPS & RECOVERY AID
These websites provide an extensive list of mutual aid organizations, 12-step programs and other support resources for people with drug and alcohol addiction:
Strategies on how to change your drinking pattern – with tips to build alcohol refusal skills and cope with cravings. Sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Reviews questions to ask when searching for a rehabilitation program. A free publication from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).