Doctors Suffer Drug and Alcohol Addiction Requiring Treatment

The idea of doctors being mere mortals disturbs many patients, but doctors have the same failings as the general population. Doctors understand the dangers of illegal substances, and often have a lower rate of addiction than the general public for street drugs. However, availability of easy prescription medications makes doctors five times more likely to abuse these compounds. Alcohol abuse is also very high for physicians. Many doctors begin their downward spiral by taking uppers and amphetamines to get them through the demands of medical school and residency. Studies indicate that 14 percent of health care practitioners battle substance abuse at some point.

Most states offer confidential treatment programs for medical professionals. Prior to 1980, licensing boards had a zero tolerance policy for substance abuse. Times changed, and the decision was made to offer doctors help for their addictions in a confidential atmosphere, theorizing that this would encourage doctors to seek treatment, which has indeed been the case. California recently turned back the clock when its medical board abolished the 27-year confidential treatment program.

Physicians across the nation have been outraged by the regressive decision. Doctors, along with their patients, feel doctors should be allowed to continue to practice when seeking help. Ironically, those doctors that hide their addictions that will now be safe from sanctions in California. Doctors will have no alternative but to hide their problems or attempt self-treatment to overcome their addictions. A tiny fraction of one percent of doctors commits malpractice due to drug influence. The loss of adequate treatment options could cause an exponential rise in human-error scenarios influenced by drugs or alcohol.

Doctors’ substance abuse programs provide the specialized therapy doctors need, including careful monitoring of behavior to ensure compliance. Doctors can reclaim their lives from the clutches of addiction in an environment of their peers. Doctor treatment programs combine successful treatment, monitoring, and rapid responses to violations to limit potential malpractice situations. Eliminating this structured system is bound to cause many doctors to hide their problems and continue to operate without any kind of help or guidance.

Detoxification, treatment, and counseling are usually provided for doctors on an outpatient basis. This method is not nearly as effective as residential treatment programs for the general public, but it seems to work well for doctors, who must maintain their appointments and clients throughout the treatment process. Doctors’ programs employ carrot-and-stick methodology. Doctors are carefully monitored, and any violations are met with severe penalties, including loss of medical license. Doctors understand the stakes better than most people, and their reward for sticking to their programs is freedom from addiction without losing their livelihoods, reputations, and relationships.

Most doctors genuinely understand the need to seek treatment, and they naturally tend to make the correct decision eventually. However, losing their license or patients at the first revelation of substance abuse would almost certainly drive doctors back into hiding. Fighting addiction alone is nearly impossible, so turning back the clock on treatment programs is a poor solution to a realistic problem many medical personnel will face.

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