Substance Misuse and Recovery
It is estimated that 10-15% of healthcare professionals will misuse substances in their lifetime. This percentage is equal to that of the general adult population. The exception is opioids. Healthcare professionals abuse opioids at a significantly higher level than non-healthcare professionals.
Healthcare professionals use substances for the same reasons other adults do. To “manage” stress, fatigue, untreated anxiety, depression, PTSD and other life problems. Factors that can also contribute to the susceptibility of substance misuse are access, long shifts with short turnaround times, mandated or unscheduled back-to-back shifts, pre-disposition, genetics and personality traits.
Healthcare professionals usually try to “manage” the problem in isolation and secrecy, having attempted to stop use, unsuccessfully, numerous times before being confronted or “caught” for diverting, a DUI charge, missed shifts, falsifying records, inaccurate charting or causing harm. Safety of self and to the public has ceased at that point. The healthcare professional is no longer able to work, is possibly fired and reported to the police and licensing board. Ideally, treatment referrals and assistance is provided. Healthcare professionals have additional and unique treatment needs not always identified or addressed in traditional substance misuse treatment milieus. Having an evaluation by an experienced provider that specializes in working with healthcare professionals and recognizes the immediacy is important. Guidance is provided toward accurately identifying the need and means to stop the risk, reduce the stigma and assist in developing a plan with accompanying resources, to restore personal and professional well-being. These are the beginning tasks of establishing a successful program of recovery.
Becoming well and learning to live without substances and other identified crutches takes motivation, willingness and support from others. Being part of a therapeutic program that includes-and is limited to- peers and other healthcare professionals, contributes significantly, and in numerous ways, to the high percentage rate (89-94%) of healthcare providers who are clean and sober, confidently working in their chosen healthcare field five years later.