Addiction Among Medical & Health Professionals
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Addiction Among Medical & Health Professionals

Profile of Addiction Medical & Health Professionals: Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists

In 2010, there were more than 850,000 physicians holding an active license to practice medicine in the United States and the District of Columbia, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards. Some of these doctors were younger than 30, and some were older than 70. Some went to school in the United States, while others got their degrees overseas. And some were doctors of medicine, and others were doctors of osteopathic medicine.

Their lives were likely very different, with different patients and different daily challenges. For some of these doctors, addiction was one such challenge. For others, addictions among colleagues made the work harder.

Vital Statistics


Medical & Health professionals abuse drugs

Research suggests that about 10 percent of medical professionals abuse drugs, which means that rates of addiction among medical & health professionals as a whole are similar to the rates seen in the rest of the population.

The potential consequences of addiction in medical professionals are higher, however. Where an individual who has an addiction might hurt friends, family members, and coworkers, a medical professional with an addiction has the capacity to inflict harm on people who are already ill, and the harm caused could cost someone’s life.

For example, in a well-publicized case from 2012, a hospital worker was accused of stealing needles filled with narcotic drugs, and using those needles to inject the drugs. That worker then allegedly replaced the drugs with saline and put the needles back into use for patients. The worker had hepatitis, and he transmitted that disease to many of his patients. His addiction wasn’t just personal. It was risky for his community, too.

Clearly, addictions among medical & health professionals are serious. As they have the potential to cause the loss of life, health, and vitality, they’re certainly worthy of concern. The response to addiction in this population is often appropriately severe. Often, that focus helps people in this class to achieve a full recovery.

A study in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine proves this point quite nicely. Here, about half of the doctors enrolled in addiction care struggled with alcohol, while a third struggled with opioids. At the end of the five-year treatment and monitoring program, 84 percent of those studied had completed the program and returned to clinical practice. In other words, they had conquered their addictions with the help of a program that was sensitive to their needs as medical & health professionals.

doctors in addiction treatment
Recovery like this can happen, but it depends on an admission that the problem is in place. If you’re reading this article as a member of the medical community, you should know that there are a number of resources that can help you. We’d like to help.
This article provides you with general resources about addiction. Read them, and you’ll know how addiction is both defined and treated. Then, we’ll provide you with resources that are specific to your medical specialty. There, you’ll learn more about how addiction could impact you and/or your colleagues, along with the resources that can help you to heal.

Please read up and then reach out and get the help you need. Your patients, your family, and your community will thank you.

Key Resources


Formal definition of addiction from the DSM-5:

The definition of addiction has changed dramatically in recent years. No longer is an addiction defined by character attributes such as “weakness” or “laziness.” Now, an addiction is considered a medical illness. This formal definition, which also delineates the difference between an addiction and a dependence on drugs, can help addicted people and their families to understand whether or not they have medical problems that need treatment.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Effective treatment strategies:

This research-based guide provides information on how a treatment program should be structured. Everything from the length of the program to the types of therapy provided is covered in this comprehensive guide.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Treatment outline for families:

Common questions about what addiction really is and how it’s commonly treated are discussed in the booklet written for the family members and loved ones of a person with an addiction.

SAMHSA treatment locator:

This interactive map provides information about all the addiction treatment options available in the United States. The data isn’t ranked by quality, so there are no specific recommendations given, but it can be a good starting point for families wondering where to go for care (or wondering if care is even available nearby).

Addiction specialist definition from the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

Addictions are often treated by a medical specialist trained to both understand and deal with addictions. This page provides insights on what these professionals do and how they are trained.

Introduction to 12-step programs:

Self-help programs that follow the 12-step model, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, are a common part of the recovery process for people with addictions. This brochure, produced by the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Conference contains information on how these programs work and what they are designed to do.

AA meeting finder:

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are typically small, and they’re designed for in-person attendance. That means there may be dozens of meetings held each and every day in larger cities. This interactive website is designed to help readers find the administrative offices of AA in the cities where they live. By contacting these offices, readers can find out about meetings held close to home.

NA meeting finder:

For people with difficulties concerning opiates, meetings in the Narcotics Anonymous model might be a better fit. This website provides information about local helplines that can assist people who need to find an NA meeting.

U.S. Department of Justice Practitioner’s Manual:

This document contains information about the rights of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to write prescriptions for controlled substances. Note that a conviction of substance abuse nullifies those rights.

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Medical review boards by state:

Issues of substance abuse are often handled by state medical boards. This page contains links to each and every review board by state. Doctors with issues can contact these boards for more information about treatment options and ongoing monitoring, or they can read up on the issues on the organization’s website.

Physician Health Program (PHP) Guidelines:

Doctors with addictions might be referred to this national, non-profit organization for treatment referrals and ongoing monitoring. This document outlines what the organization hopes to do and how the program typically works.

Physician Health Programs by state:

This interactive web page provides data on the PHP outposts in each state. Again, doctors might be referred to the right PHP by a state medical board, but contacting the state PHP directly might also be a good way to get the treatment process started.

PHP overview:

This article from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons provides information on how PHPs work and how recovery tends to evolve among doctors who have addictions.

PHP public policy statement:

This document contains information about drug testing for doctors with substance abuse problems. Here, the authors suggest that testing should last for just five years, as doctors who have made it through that length of time tend to have a low risk of patient danger.

PHP outcomes study:

This comprehensive study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment outlines how doctors use PHPs, and how many of them recover due to the help they receive at the hands of PHPs.

List of criminal cases against doctors – U.S. Department of Justice:

Sometimes, addiction issues become so serious that the federal authorities must get involved. This web page contains a list of cases in which physicians were investigated by the DEA for suspected drug use. It’s a sobering list, but it proves that addictions can have serious consequences for doctors. Reading through it could help some doctors to see the need for comprehensive care.

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Model curriculum – American Society of Anesthesiologists:

Many of the resources that apply to doctors also apply to anesthesiologists. After all, these professionals are doctors, and they’re expected to use PHPs in order to get better. There are special considerations for anesthesiologists, as they have very high exposures to intoxicating drugs. This class outlines the risks in detail and provides information about what should be done if an anesthesiologist is suspected of abuse.

Licensing information – The American Board of Anesthesiology:

This page describes how doctors under a cloud of addiction might be ineligible to renew licenses with the American Board of Anesthesiology.

Anesthesiologist recovery rates:

This 2013 study published in JAMA outlines the rate of addiction among anesthesiology residents, along with the recovery rate experienced by those who enrolled in a qualified treatment program. For those who think that treatment doesn’t work, this piece could provide an excellent source of hope and healing.

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Nurse Practice Acts by state:

The rules and regulations that govern nursing can vary from state to state. For nurses with substance abuse issues, those variations matter. This website allows nurses to spot the guidelines for the states in which they work.

Nurse Practice Acts overview article:

This comprehensive article contains information about how drug abuse issues translate into disciplinary actions under the Nurse Practice Acts enacted by the states. The article also contains data about how drug complaints move from rumor to enforcement under the acts.

Constituent and State Nurses Associations:

Nurses associations can provide assistance to RNs with substance abuse disorders. This page allows nurses to find the associations that are active in the states in which they work.

Addiction resource manual – National Council of State Boards of Nursing:

This 280-page booklet provides information on the scope of addiction in the nursing workforce, along with detailed information about how treatment programs for nurses tend to work. This should be a go-to resource for any nurse with concerns about addiction, as the data provided here proves that substance use issues can be conquered with the right kind of treatment.

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Position statement from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists:

This article outlines how the national organization for pharmacists defines addiction, and how the organization hopes to help reduce the number of pharmacists who are addicted.

Pharmacy boards by state:

Issues of competency and addiction might be handled by the pharmacy board in the state where the pharmacist resides. A list of all those boards is found on this page.

Pharmacy addiction relapse study:

Pharmacists who hope to keep their jobs after successful addiction treatment will need to develop in-depth relapse skills, and often, that means they’ll need to both understand how addictions develop in people in their industry and what they’ll have to avoid in order to stay sober. This study can help, as it provides information about what recovered pharmacists consider to be their most pressing relapse issues.

Pharmacy and addiction overview – The American Pharmacists Association:

This 11-page article was written to provide pharmacists with more information about how addictions develop within the industry, and how national organizations hope to make things better for everyone involved. This is an excellent overview article for pharmacists hoping to understand the issue at a global level.

Onset of illegal drug use among pharmacists – Medscape:

Denial is a big part of the picture for almost anyone who uses or abuses drugs. This overview article can help. Here, the authors survey pharmacists and discover why some chose to abuse drugs. Information about when the abuse started, why it started, and why it ended is all included in this comprehensive article.

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Addiction overview – The American Dental Association (ADA):

Dentists aren’t immune to the call of substance abuse, as this overview from the ADA makes clear. Here, the authors outline specific attributes that define an addiction, along with a series of links to industry-specific articles about addiction. Links to articles about real dentists with addictions might also be useful for professionals who feel alone in their addiction.

Overview of the role of state well-being boards:

The ADA relies on state entities to help dentists with substance abuse disorders. This ADA overview contains information on how these entities work and what they do. The pertinent information begins on page 103 of this document.

List of dental organizations:

Since issues of addiction are handled at the state level, dentists are encouraged to contact their local authorities when they discover an addiction issue. This page contains all the pertinent information about the organizations located within each state.

Overview of the issue of addiction in dentists:

This article produced by the Florida Dental Association contains information on the scope of the addiction issue among dentists, along with data about how some dentists have used the addiction treatment community in order to continue working. Reading issues about healing could be quite helpful for dentists who feel lost and alone.

ADA licensing requirements:

Dentists who hope to work within the United States need a license in order to do so. This page contains information about what’s required in order to either obtain or renew a license, and some of the data here highlights how an addiction could keep a dentist from working.

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Help and Healing

It’s understandable that medical professionals would strive to keep addiction issues private. After all, by outlining that they have a problem, they’re placing their livelihoods on the line. It’s vital to remember that there are programs that can help, and there are guidelines that allow medical & health professionals with addiction to get the assistance they need so they can keep working.

A fear of unemployment shouldn’t keep you from reaching out. With help, you can keep your job. We hope you’ll use the information here to start your journey to healing.

medical & health professionals