Tag: addicted doctors

The Frightening Truth about Doctor & Drug Abuse

Doctors Love Drugs…

doctors substance abuse

It’s scary to think about, but it’s also absolutely true – doctors and nurses abuse drugs. What’s even more alarming is that, generally speaking, medical professionals abuse more potent and dangerous drugs than your “normal” addict.

Well, in 2013, a team of researchers set out to understand why doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are prone to substance abuse. The team, led by Dr. David O. Warner, conducted a landmark study titled Substance use disorder among anesthesiology residents, 1975-2009.

Their research was the first examining a specific subgroup of medical professionals, in this case anesthesiologists. It was also incredibly detailed and massive in scope. They studied the medical and professional records of over 44,000 anesthesiologists over a thirty plus year period.

What did they find? Well, their data were alarming at best and outright terrifying at worst.

Read a firsthand account of addiction & medical doctors

Statistics on Doctors & Addiction

Dr. Warner and his team came to several major conclusions. Find them detailed below:

  • 384 anesthesiologists admitted to engaging in substance abuse during their residency. While this is a small number when viewed through the whole data set (0.86%), it’s still alarming that so many medical students were abusing drugs.

  • Listed in order of abuse, the most commonly abused drugs were: IV opioids, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, anesthetics (sedatives like benzo’s), and opioid pills.

  • Of the doctors who engaged in drug or alcohol abuse, 28 died as a direct result of their abuse.

  • Between 1975 and 2009, the highest rates of abuse were between 2003 to the end of the study. It’s a safe bet that 2015 is seeing record rates of drug abuse by doctors.

  • 43% of all substance abusing doctors suffered at least one relapse during their careers.

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    Why Are So Many Doctors Abusing Drugs?

    This is the first question we have to ask ourselves. Why? Why are doctors, nurses, and medical professionals, particularly anesthesiologists, abusing drugs and alcohol so frequently?

    There are a number of factors to consider. First, being a medical professional is stressful! This likely begins in med school, where potential doctors are put through years of intense classes, training, and residencies.

    After med school, doctors and nurses live busy and demanding lives. They work long shifts, often twelve-hours at a time, and have few breaks during their shifts. There’s also the fact that medical professionals are literally making life or death decisions.

    medical professionals drug addiction

    This is true of all levels of medical professionals. From the orderlies and interns, right up to the chief surgeons, peoples’ lives are in their hands. That’s enough to make even the biggest teetotaler want a drink or a drug.

    Next, think about the student debt receiving a medical degree entails. Doctors and nurses have among the most expensive educations and also among the longest. Certainly this debt does nothing but add to their stress levels.

    Finally, and perhaps most obviously, medical professionals have access to drugs that “normal” people simply don’t have. Working in a hospital or medical office, being routinely handed pills by pharmaceutical company reps…powerful and addictive substances literally surround doctors. This is especially true of anesthesiologists.

    Thankfully, there’s hope! There are treatment centers, counselors, and other resources around the country that specialize in treating medical professionals for addiction.

    While the road to recovery isn’t always linear (remember, 43% of substance abusing doctors reported relapsing), it is possible and within everyone’s grasp. Regardless of the stress associated with being a doctor, with the large debt or the ease of access to potent chemicals, doctors and nurses can get sober. Anyone can get sober! And that’s good news.

    Pharmaceutical companies have some strange political agendas…

    Is My Dr. Stoned?

    My Doctor Was an Addict

    addiction in medicine

    I’d like to share with you all a story. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s the story of the medical director at the first residential treatment center I went to.

    See, the medical director was an addict. He was, and is, a talented doctor, but he struggles with the same disease I do – the insidious disease of alcoholism and addiction.

    Find his story, and some of my thoughts on substance abuse in the addiction medicine field, below.


    From Distinguished to Disgraced

    While I don’t know my former doctor’s entire career, I have been able to piece together some basic facts. He was wildly successful. He’d practiced medicine in the addiction field since the mid 80’s. In the early 90’s, he founded a prominent Florida treatment center.

    So began his climb up the ladder of success. The treatment center took off right away, offering a diverse and holistic range of services to those struggling with addiction. My former doctor was, in large part, to thank for this success. He brought to the table an innovative and unique approach.

    I ended up in rehab at this facility in 2007. By that time, my former doctor had been practicing addiction medicine for almost thirty years. To say he was an expert is a vast understatement.

    However, his days at the treatment center were numbered. I stayed there for almost five months. After graduating, I continued to see him one-on-one for my psychiatric needs. His knowledge allowed him to suggest a range of helpful meds for my dual-diagnosis issues.

    He was fired from the treatment center, and was asked to resign from the board of directors, about a year and a half after I graduated. This was mid 2008. By this time, I’d switched doctors. It seems that, somewhere along the line, he’d also switched. He’d switched from treating addiction to battling it personally.

    I remember seeing him at a Blockbuster in late 2007. It was early evening and I was there with my halfway house roommates. He was disheveled and falling down drunk. When I walked over to talk to him, it took him several moments to recognize who I was.

    I don’t know what he’s up to today. I believe he still maintains a private practice. In many ways, I’m sure he’s still successful. What I don’t know is if he’s sober. I don’t know the state of his soul. I don’t know whether, when he wakes in the morning, he can stand to look at himself in the mirror.

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    Addiction in Addiction Medicine

    My former doctor’s story is an interesting one. I’m not so sure it’s a unique one, though. I’ve heard of, seen, and experienced firsthand how often doctors fall into active addiction.

    Think about it – peoples’ lives are literally in a doctor’s hands. That has to be incredibly stressful. Couple that with the fact that doctors have access to a whole range of prescription medicine, including opioids, benzo’s, amphetamines, and even barbiturates.

    It seems almost natural that doctors may self medicate. It also seems natural that, for some, they may fall into addiction. After all, addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It doesn’t discriminate based on education, professional success, financial success, medical knowledge, or intellect. It just destroys.

    doctors with addiction

    It’s hard to find accurate information on the prevalence of addiction in the field of addiction medicine. I’m willing to bet the numbers are surprisingly high, though. If being a doctor is stressful, imagine how stressful it must be to specialize in helping those struggling with addiction. Imagine how stressful it must be to be almost powerless to help those who so desperately need your help.

    Let me clarify that last sentence. I don’t think doctors are powerless to help addicts and alcoholics. Rather, I think that long-term recovery must come from within. It must come from a spiritual source. Doctors and medicine can only take addicts and alcoholics so far.

    So, image the pressure and heartache that doctors working in the treatment industry must feel on a daily basis. It makes sense that some may turn to chemicals in an attempt to feel better.

    This man’s doctor turned him into an addict

    Helping Addicted Doctors

    The question then becomes how treatment centers and the recovery community can best help doctors struggling with addiction. How can we help those who are supposed to help us?

    Well, there are a ton of programs in place to help doctors and nurses. These are things like diversion programs and treatment centers that cater specifically to healthcare professionals. There are also twelve-step meetings that are designed for doctors.

    The next step in helping doctors, nurses, or other healthcare workers struggling with addiction is as simple as helping anyone else. We, as men and women in recovery, offer them our hand. We offer them our experience, strength, and hope. We treat them as we’d treat any other individual looking for a way out of active addiction.

    Aside from that, I’m not sure what else there is to do. Continuing to break the stigma surrounding substance abuse and recovery is certainly another good step. Making sure the hand of recovery is always available to anyone who needs it is the key, though. With this sort of unselfish, constructive action, well, anyone can get better, doctor or otherwise.

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