According to research published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, most physicians who abuse or become addicted to prescription drugs describe their motivation, not as being pleasure- or recreational thrill-seeking, but rather:
- To relieve stress
- To diminish physical pain
- To cope with emotional challenges or upset
- To cope with undiagnosed depression
Nonetheless, if you are (or someone you know is) a doctor who currently struggles with the devastating consequences of an addiction to prescription drugs—or any substance use disorder—the most important piece of information to know is this: Confidential help and treatment are available.
The fact is, physicians who find themselves afflicted with an addiction to drugs or alcohol can seek confidential treatment per both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and under Title 42 in the Code of Federal Regulations (42 CFR). The latter specifically protects the privacy of records for patients undergoing treatment for substance abuse. This means, doctors in any medical field can seek professional treatment without disclosing their problem to colleagues or a medical board.
And given that many physicians may not necessitate or be in the position to enter inpatient treatment, outpatient programs are available in most states. Typically, an outpatient treatment program will last between 1-3 months, with either outpatient or inpatient treatment usually including group and individual therapy and counseling, family and return-to-work evaluations, and in-depth education on both addiction and recovery.
After completing treatment, most programs strongly encourage patients to continue their recovery with follow-up participation in 12-step or other recovery-based programs.
It should be noted that, while doctors can receive confidential treatment for their substance use disorder, it is strongly suggested they report themselves to the physician health program (PHP) in their state. PHPs provide ongoing monitoring that often lasts 5 years, depending on the state and the individual, and typically includes behavioral assessments, random urine testing, and workplace surveillance.
While such measures may create anxiety and resistance for a doctor who has worked long and hard to keep his/her addiction secret, it has been found that chemically dependent doctors who don’t participate in monitoring programs have a relapse rate, during the first year, more than twice that of those who follow through with PHP monitoring. Additionally, research shows only 22% of physicians who participate in PHP monitoring test positive at any point during their 5-year monitoring period and 71% are still licensed and employed after 5 years, which indicates a much lower rate of relapse than those who go unmonitored after treatment.
While many doctors who become addicted to drugs or alcohol state they believed they should be capable of withstanding the effects of the substance(s) they were using, they learn in treatment having a substance use disorder is not something to be strategized or willed their way out of; rather, it is a disease to be treated by professionals whose expertise is in the field of addiction medicine.
In either an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting, addicted doctors can confidentially receive the help of specially trained medical doctors, along with other addiction specialists, and learn how they can address their problems, learn new coping behaviors, and regain control of their lives, leading to a new life of freedom from active addiction.
 Merlo LJ, Singhakant S, Cummings SM, Cottler LB. Reasons for misuse of prescription medication among physicians undergoing monitoring by a physician health program. J Addict Med. 2013;7:349-353.
 DuPont RL, McLellan AT, Carr G, Gendel M, Skipper GE. How are addicted physicians treated? A national survey of Physician Health Programs. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2009; 37:1-7.