Addiction in the Medical Field: Balancing Healing and Hiding

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Medical professionals work hard to heal the sick, but underneath those white lab coats and cartoon scrubs, many are secretly struggling with the disease of addiction. Working in the healthcare field can feel like a pressure cooker at times. The constant tension can drive even our best and brightest providers to the brink, prodding them to seek out some kind of escape…an escape that often comes in the form of prescription drugs.

With easy access to narcotics, overwhelming mental stress, frequent exposure to terminal illness and a pressing need to hide the disease, addicted healthcare workers face a unique set of challenges.

Caring for Others Takes a Toll

If you watch the news, you’ve undoubtedly noticed an increase in the number of doctors, nurses and pharmacists busted for working under the influence or illegally obtaining prescription medications. Even more frightening, only a fraction of these addicted caregivers are caught. Thousands more are working in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes right now – and they’re working while impaired.

The medical field is demanding, to say the least. Extended work hours are generally accompanied by intense physical and mental strain. Add to those conditions the high expectations of co-workers, patients and family members and it’s easy to see how medical providers can become overwhelmed.

Some turn to prescription medications like Oxycontin, Percocet, Xanax and Klonopin for a quick boost of energy or a stress reliever. Others use opiate pain relievers as a remedy for aching back muscles or unbearable shoulder pains after a long shift. What begins as a quest for relief, however, can quickly turn into a raging prescription medication addiction.

The Claws of Addiction

The public holds medical providers to a higher standard than most – and rightly so. Let’s face it; how safe would you feel going under the knife with a surgeon who’s high as a kite on Vicodin or OxyContin? It’s a scary thought, right?

Addicted medical professionals live in a state of constant fear. If exposed, they’re afraid the fallout and resulting stigma would ruin them. As such, most become experts in the art of concealment and deflection. They try to function on all levels, but they’re prepared to offer suitable explanations when confronted about irregularities. In some instances, co-workers ignore – or even cover-up – the side effects of a provider’s addiction.

There is Life After Addiction

To achieve sobriety and long-term recovery, addicted medical professionals must first be willing to acknowledge their disease and actively seek help. With the massive spike in drug abuse among practitioners, state medical boards have been forced to address the issue. As a result, most states now offer some form of assistance program for impaired healthcare workers.

Licensed healthcare providers who ask for help and participate in the recovery process are usually allowed to return to work after finishing a designated treatment program and meeting certain terms. Of course, the rules vary from state to state; you can get detailed information about these programs by visiting your state’s board of health website.

Medical professionals spend their lives caring for others; asking for help and admitting there’s a problem doesn’t come easy. However, when you’re quite literally dealing with life-and-death situations, there’s no room for addiction. Period. Working with the state and entering into an approved addiction treatment program are essential steps for each and every medical provider who’s serious about traveling the road to sobriety.

Learn more about how you can help an addicted loved one find sobriety.

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