Most people would agree: Being a healthcare worker—especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic—isn’t a career for the faint of heart. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals shoulder a lot of responsibility and regularly work in demanding, high-pressure environments. (I can’t imagine a more stressful place to work, these days, than a hospital or medical clinic.) However, healthcare workers are human and therefore susceptible to the same problems many of the rest of us have… including having a substance use disorder (aka addiction to alcohol and/or drugs).
In fact, according to research, substance abuse and addiction rates for healthcare professionals are no different than the general public. Studies indicate 10-15% of healthcare workers will misuse substances during their lifetime. Unfortunately, when a doctor or nurse has issues with substance use, others can be put in danger as a result. If a healthcare worker is struggling with addiction, their patients might be neglected. Mistakes can end up in the loss of innocent lives, and in turn, malpractice lawsuits.
Fortunately, healthcare professionals have been shown to be more likely than the general population to maintain sobriety after receiving professional treatment. 95% of those healthcare workers who completed the requirements of their treatment program were licensed and actively working in the healthcare field five years after successfully finishing treatment.
Many medical professionals are reluctant to admit they have a problem with drugs, fearing legal and licensure repercussions, or believing they’ll eventually be able to address “the problem” on their own.
The safest, most effective way to overcome a drug problem is to seek professional care at an inpatient rehab center. Regardless of whether or not you’re a healthcare professional, the first step to overcoming addiction is to admit you have a problem. At an addiction treatment center, once addiction has been assessed, a treatment plan will be tailored to suit the unique needs of the person.
Staffed by addiction specialists who are familiar with treating health professionals, addiction treatment programs for healthcare professionals take into account the challenges and temptations doctors and nurses deal with on a daily basis.
In an inpatient program, the addicted person will work alongside psychologists, nurse practitioners, physicians and their peers to determine the source or sources of substance dependency and how to overcome it. Some of the areas specific to treating health professionals with substance issues are:
- How to restore medical career and reputation
- The process of returning to a professional practice
- How to avoid potential triggers in and outside the workplace
- How to prevent relapse
- Addressing licensing and disciplinary matters
- Participation in monitoring programs
Clearly, recovery from alcohol and/or drug dependency doesn’t end when treatment is over. Reconstructing both one’s personal and professional life is often necessary, which may include making amends, accepting a probationary period and/or regaining the trust of one’s colleagues, patients, family and friends.
The good news, however, is there’s hope for all healthcare professionals to overcome any substance use disorder and return to work with greater well-being and clarity of mind, improved health and a renewed sense of life and purpose.
 Bennett, J., & O’Donovan, D. (2001). Substance misuse by doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 14, 195–199.
 Ibid; Baldisseri, M. R. (2007). Impaired healthcare professional. Critical Care Medicine, 35, S106–S116; Merlo, L. J., Trejo-Lopez, J., Conwell, T., & Rivenbark, J. (2013). Patterns of substance abuse initiation among healthcare professionals in recovery. The American Journal on Addictions, 22, 605–612.
 DuPont, R. L., McLellan, A. T., Carr, G., Gendel, M., & Skipper, G. E. (2009). How are addicted physicians treated? A national survey of physician health programs. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 37, 1–7.