[Note to Reader: See “PART ONE” of this 2-part blog-post in the archives.]
When a doctor, nurse or any other healthcare professional regularly drinks an unhealthy amount of alcohol, the fact that they’re sustaining some level of professional and personal success may inhibit them from acknowledging they have an alcohol abuse disorder and getting help to deal effectively with it. This denial—combined with fears of possibly losing their license to practice in the field of medicine, their job or the respect and support of their loved ones and associates—can actually pose grave dangers to the healthcare professional themselves, as well as their patients, co-workers and family. Getting treatment for problems with alcohol, especially for doctors and nurses, certainly requires honesty, open-mindedness and willingness; but resources are available that can allow healthcare professionals to get the help they need and keep their licensure and ability to continue working.
One prime motivator for people with an alcohol abuse disorder to seek help is the emergence of significant negative consequences of their drinking. For many, when the pain, shame or troubles—with work, finances, relations or legal matters—get bad enough, one can no longer deny their alcohol consumption needs to be addressed.
Still, for those who are high-functioning alcoholics—especially those professionals working in the healthcare field—their denial is more deeply entrenched. They may still not have encountered substantial or meaningful negative consequences to their careers, finances, relationships or with the law. And so the voice in their head says things like, “I’ve still got my job and family, so I don’t have a problem,” or “I haven’t hurt anyone or gotten into trouble, so I can handle it.”
Even when the “signs on the wall” become quite pronounced, many doctors and nurses still resist acknowledging their struggles with alcohol, often to the point of lying and hiding to avoid being confronted or caught.
However, when the consequences of their drinking can no longer be ignored—for example, patients, co-workers and/or employers levy complaints and threaten legal action about mistakes or wrong-doings, spouses talk of leaving or divorcing, or serious health issues emerge—many high-functioning alcoholics begin recognizing their resistance to seeking help is literally destroying their lives. They also may start realizing the severity of “what may happen” if they don’t find a solution to their alcohol dependency. The stark reality of their “situation” shows them the potential for a life-threatening or deadly accident, the loss of their license to practice, the termination of their employment, a jail sentence, a lawsuit that could wipe them out, a divorce and subsequent loss of their family. Experiencing or clearly seeing the possible manifestation of any or all of these consequences may be sufficient cause for the high-functioning alcoholic to reach out for help.
There are a number of options available to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who want help with their alcohol problems. According to alcohol.org (American Addiction Centers), “States have specialized addiction treatment programs in place for medical professionals that are confidential and non-punitive, as long as the person entering the program has not already faced criminal or legal actions related to their substance abuse.”
And according to Krystina Murray, a blogger for AlcoholRehabGuide.com, treatment facilities that are specifically designed to help doctors and nurses achieve and maintain sobriety can be “highly effective in restoring the individual to a healthy state, while reducing the rate of relapse. Treatment facilities provide treatment and detox, while ensuring medical professionals keep their license. They (also) provide information on avoiding triggers, keeping careers and reputations intact, and licensing and disciplinary matters.”
The bottom line is, doctors, nurses and those in the healthcare industry do not have to struggle alone, fearing the worst, while their struggles with alcohol spiral further and further out of control. There are options available for them to find freedom from alcohol problems, which can lead to a new and better life. All it truly requires is a willingness to reach out for help.
 “Alcoholism and Medical Professionals” by Krystina Murray. Oct. 30, 2019. https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/