Why Physicians Struggle with Substance Abuse

All practicing physicians know that high-stress levels, long hours, and the pressure to care for patients can take a toll on their physical and mental health. Unfortunately, in an attempt to alleviate these ever-present issues, many doctors turn to drugs and alcohol. Doctors are just as prone to substance abuse as other people, and drug use can quickly turn into abuse and addiction, both of which can jeopardize your medical license. Below you’ll learn more about substance abuse among physicians and find out when to seek help from a medical license defense lawyer.

Causes of Addiction Issues

Like many people, doctors use painkillers, antidepressants and prescription medications to help them cope with stress. One reason is because doctors can easily access a wide variety of drugs, making self-medication and abuse more likely. In fact, according to a 2014 review in the Medical Student Research Journal, doctors  and medical students abuse prescription drugs at a higher rate than the general population. A 2009 Mayo Clinic study also reported that over 50 percent of the doctors enrolled in doctor health programs abused alcohol and close to 36 percent abused opioids.

Reasons for Abuse

Doctors may use sedatives and opiates to alleviate stress, fatigue and insomnia. In addition, they may take a narcotic drug for legitimate reasons, such as pain relief, but transition to abusing it to relieve stress. Some physicians who suffer from chronic pain due to trauma or surgery self-medicate, while others abuse prescription drugs to treat depression or anxiety. Since legally they can prescribe drugs to themselves, addiction can quickly take control of their lives. In addition, doctors who are trying to get off of a drug may use another drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

How to Identify Addiction Issues

While we imagine that work performance would quickly decline in cases of substance use, this is actually untrue. Often, job performance doesn’t suffer until the doctor has been using for a long period of time. Some signs that there may be a substance abuse problem include doctors who stop participating in social activities with their colleagues, frequent absences from work, a change in appearance such as weight loss, increased anxiety or depression, moodiness, and making unusual drug orders. A doctor who excessively drinks alcohol at events, smells of alcohol, or has difficulty walking or speaking may also be suffering from addiction.

Getting Help

Whether you are a doctor suffering from addiction, or you notice the symptoms of addiction in a colleague, enrolling in a treatment facility or outpatient treatment plan is essential. If you do this voluntarily before your work performance begins to suffer and you are reported, you will be more likely allowed to return to work after successfully completing treatment. By choosing a treatment program that specializes in helping addicted professionals, you will work with specialists who are able to identify workplace issues that contribute to your addiction issues.

In most states, you can seek help from a confidential physician health program, which will allow you to get help without revealing your identity to the National Practitioner Data Bank. Doctors who enroll in these programs are typically more successful than those who enroll in alternative programs. Physicians who return to work after treatment have a 74 to 90 percent abstinence rate, so it’s worth enrolling in a program.

Medical License Defense in California

If you are suffering from addiction issues which have jeopardized your license, California professional license defense attorney Scott J Harris can help. Call 323-794-0701 for a free 30-minute consultation at his Los Angeles office.

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When dealing with these complex issues, you need legal representation that has a long track record of success in these types of cases. Scott Harris and the rest of our team at S J Harris Law will be ready to help you pursue any option available that allows you to keep your license and continue working, no matter what industry you are in.


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