Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Doctors Near Me

3 min read · 6 sections
Even physicians can become addicted to drugs and alcohol. In fact, research shows that, as with the general population, the prevalence of substance use disorder (SUD), a medical condition defined by the uncontrollable use of a substance despite the negative consequences, among physicians is 15% (compared to 13% in the general population).1

Prior to the 1970s, physicians battling their own addiction issues were ignored or punished. However, in 1973, the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a pivotal report calling for state medical societies and associations to identify and treat doctors with SUDs.2 As a result, state-based organizations, dedicated to physician SUD and alcohol use disorder treatment, began forming—often run by doctors with a personal history of successful recovery.3

Today, physicians with SUDs are often referred to these physician health programs (PHPs) to begin their road to recovery.3

Statistics on Substance Abuse in Doctors

Long hours and stressful working conditions may cause some physicians to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Some of the key findings in this area include:1-5

  • SUDs seem to be most prevalent in emergency physicians, studies report. Research suggests that somewhere between 7% and 18% of the physicians treated for SUDs in PHPs are emergency physicians.
  • Emergency room physicians and anesthesiologists are 3 times more likely to develop a SUD than other physicians.
  • Anesthesiologists with SUDs tend to relapse, overdose, or commit suicide at higher rates than other specialty physicians with SUDs.
  • Many physicians diagnosed with substance dependence have a history of prescription drug misuse. One study found that 69% of the physicians being monitored for substance-related impairment admitted to misusing prescription medications.
  • Physicians enrolled in PHPs do well. Studies indicate that 5 years after treatment, 75% to 90% still abstain from alcohol and other substances.
  • Most physicians return to practicing medicine without restrictions after treatment. In one observational study that followed more than 900 physicians from PHPs in 16 different states for 5 years, 72% of physicians went back to work.

Symptoms and Signs of Substance Abuse in Doctors

Research shows that many physicians who misuse drugs or alcohol may effectively mask their symptoms. In physicians, the disease of addiction is almost always in an advanced state before signs and symptoms become obvious at work.6 Therefore, it’s important to be aware of some of the common signs and symptoms that may indicate a doctor is misusing drugs or alcohol, including:6-8

  • Isolating themselves from patients, colleagues, and supervisors.
  • A decline in work performance, such as incorrect charting.
  • Missing work frequently.
  • Consistently arriving late.
  • Missing appointments with patients.
  • Writing inappropriate or unusual prescriptions.
  • Preferring to work nights when there may be less staff on duty.
  • Drinking heavily at work functions.
  • Feeling physically ill often.
  • Getting defensive or anxious.
  • Feeling increasingly irritable.
  • Stumbling, getting dizzy spells, or experiencing hand tremors.
  • Having consistently dilated pupils.
  • Exhibiting bloodshot eyes.
  • Lacking care when it comes to physical appearance.
  • Slurring their speech.
  • Smelling like alcohol or excessively using breath mints or mouthwash.
  • Having conflicts with coworkers and others due to substance use.

Causes and Risk Factors of Addiction in Doctors

There are many unique aspects of a doctor’s profession that may make them more susceptible than other professions to addiction, including:2,9-11

  • Access to pharmaceuticals. Some physicians may be unable to resist the temptation of the workplace access they have to controlled substances, such as fentanyl, morphine, and OxyContin.  
  • Professional invincibility and self-medication for pain. In addition to having access to prescription medications, research indicates that some physicians may have an attitude that they can self-medicate with certain prescription drugs without becoming addicted.
  • Physician burnout. Characterized by emotional exhaustion and feelings of reduced accomplishment at work can lead some physicians to feel high levels of stress or depression, both of which can increase their odds of substance misuse.
  • Chronic fatigue. The unpredictable hours associated with some physicians’ professions, such as emergency room doctors, can disrupt their circadian rhythm, which can lead some to misuse certain substances in an attempt to stay awake and alert.

Consequences of Addiction in Doctors

If doctors practice medicine while impaired or while recovering from a previous substance use-related impairment, they may not be capable of safely and effectively caring for patients.12 Physicians are at risk for legal issues specific to their profession—substance use can lead to lawsuits tied to medical malpractice and negligence, which can put the physician’s license to practice medicine in jeopardy.13 Additionally, colleagues and other peers in the medical field are legally obligated to report physicians they suspect of impairment.14

Besides the negative consequences doctors misusing substances face in the workplace, they may also develop physical and mental illnesses as a result and feel adverse effects of their substance use within their family as well.13 Consequently, studies indicate that physicians with untreated SUDs have a mortality rate of up to 17%.13

Substance Abuse Treatment for Doctors

Substance abuse treatment provides a unique opportunity to engage in specialized medical care, such as individual counseling, group work, psychoeducation, complementary therapies, and care for trauma and co-occurring mental health issues.15

PHPs do not actually provide treatment for SUDs. Instead, these programs provide case management for physicians.3 If treatment is deemed necessary after an assessment, the PHP draws up a contract lasting 1-5 years (more than 88% of all contracts last five years).3 This contract generally keeps the physician safe from prosecution and professional consequences if they successfully complete the program.3

These contracts typically require total abstinence and participation in a 12-step program. Beyond that, effective treatment looks different for each physician and considers the substance used and the unique needs of the individual.3 Rehab may draw on a variety of treatment types, including:

  • Detox: Detoxification allows the individual to rid their body of substances, including experiencing withdrawal symptoms, while being monitored by medical and mental healthcare staff 24/7. Medically managed drug detox ensures your safety and keeps you as comfortable as possible.
  • Inpatient treatment. Most physicians participate in residential rehab, which involves staying at a facility while receiving intensive individual and group counseling, psychiatric care, and education to help them understand and resolve issues that lead to misuse drugs or alcohol. They learn to develop alternative coping strategies.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment offers services, therapies, and treatment that looks similar (even identical) to inpatient care but allows the individual the ability to return home. Treatment occurs during regularly scheduled, clinic-based appointments and is provided in group and individual sessions.
  • Behavioral Therapy. Many addiction treatment programs use a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help an individual change how they think and behave. Therapy may be part of a formal treatment program or be used as aftercare or continuing care. Behavioral therapy techniques can help individuals develop healthy coping skills, learn how to lower their risk of relapse, strengthen their relationships, and increase their ability to function within the community. This can occur in group, individual, and/or family sessions.

Differences in PHPs and other treatment programs exist in the follow-up care. Following successful completion of their formal treatment, physicians are monitored closely.3 The PHP contracts mandate attending contractual activities; frequent, random drug and alcohol screenings; consent to contact family; access to all medical records; and unannounced workplace visits.3,16 Additionally, as part of the PHP contract, some physicians may be prohibited from self-prescribing or prescribing medications for family, might have workplace limitations that include zero access to opioids or procedures with opioids, or may only be permitted to work certain hours when they do return to the workplace.9

Studies indicate that PHPs are effective in this approach.16 In one such study, 64% of the 904 physicians in 16 PHPs competed their five-year contract without incident.16 The same research found 78% of the physicians licensed and working again five years later.16

Some of American Addiction Centers’ facilities offer a specific program for licensed medical professionals. The licensed professional track is designed especially for professionals like physicians, pharmacists, dentists, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses. The program provides treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders for a population with unique recovery challenges, including stigma, unclear boundaries, access to controlled substances, regular exposure to trauma, and more.

FAQs Regarding Rehab for Physicians

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