Obtaining discreet evidence-based treatment for medical professionals
The medical profession is a stressful one. Grueling work schedules and long hours only add to the built-in stress of the job. Doctors are human, just like anyone else, and may succumb to self-medicating their stress by using substances like so many people do, regardless of their profession. Physicians and nurses deserve to receive compassionate support for a substance use disorder, and treated with the dignity afforded to all individuals who are struggling.
Alarmingly, the misuse of substances by physicians is fairly prevalent, meaning that unsuspecting patients are being placed under the care of a doctor who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Physicians are charged with dispensing medications and performing surgeries, so a doctor with a substance use problem can potentially endanger a patient’s life. This underscores the necessity for a doctor to secure professional treatment for their substance use disorder.
How Many Medical Professionals Have a Substance Problem?
Medical professionals struggle with substance misuse at about the same rate as the general public, however when it comes to opioids (prescription painkillers), doctors have a significantly higher rate of substance abuse. According to a study conducted by Lisa Merlo, Ph.D. whose research was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, out of 55 physicians studied who were dealing with a substance use disorders, 60% reported misusing prescription painkillers.
Nurses, too, have high rates of substance misuse. According to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, as many as 20% of all nurses struggles a substance use disorder. The rates are highest for nurses who specialize in oncology (42%), the psychiatric field (40%), and emergency room or critical care (38%).
A report in USA Today, states that in excess of 100,000 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals have substance use disorders, mostly involving opioids.
What Causes a Physician to Misuse Substances?
One of the primary reasons why physicians may have high rates of opioid misuse is simply having access to the drug. Eighty-seven percent of doctors engage in self-prescribing activities, where a doctor prescribes medications for him or herself. Many medical professionals admit to beginning their substance abuse after obtaining their prescribing privileges.
According to Merlo’s research, the following factors were cited as reasons for self-medicating:
- Pain. Like so many Americans who use prescription pain medications following surgery or injuries, doctors, too, are vulnerable to the addictive properties of these drugs.
- Stress. Substances are used to ease work and life stressors.
- Mental health issues. Doctors who struggle with anxiety and depression are more prone to self-medicating using available drugs.
Sleep deprivation, exposure to death and suffering may all contribute to a need to self-medicate for emotional distress or trauma, more so if there is a genetic predisposition for addiction or a co-existing mood disorder.
Comprehensive Residential Treatment for Healthcare Professionals
When a physician is struggling with substance use they will benefit from a multi-dimensional treatment protocol to help them transition toward achieving a sustained recovery. The comprehensive treatment program includes a variety of therapeutic interventions, such as:
- Medical detox, during which the remaining substance is eliminated from the body. Trained detox professionals provide medical interventions to reduce the discomfort of the detox and withdrawal process.
- Individual psychotherapy involves use of evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
- Group therapy. Small group therapy sessions encourage peer support through sharing personal experiences, feelings, and challenges.
- Family therapy. Family-focused counseling provides family members an opportunity to heal and move forward in a positive manner.
- Education about the addiction process and how it impacts the brain, as well as acquiring recovery skills and making a plan for avoiding recurrence
- Medication supported recovery (MSR) provides an important continuing care element for some patients.
- Treatment for a coexisting mental health disorder if a dual diagnosis is present. Treating both the substance use disorder and the co-occurring mental health disorder simultaneously provides the best recovery outcome.
- Adjunct therapies such as yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation, art therapy, and recreational activities compliment the traditional psychotherapy by adding a holistic dimension.
Following completion of the residential treatment program, physicians will benefit from careful aftercare planning. Continuing care efforts might involve MSR, sober living housing, 12-step or similar meetings with a recovery community, and enriching a sober lifestyle through regular exercise and nutrition.