Lots of professions are demanding, but medicine entails sky-high stress levels almost all the time. Dealing with grueling hours and furiously hectic days, ailing patients and their distraught families, grim diagnoses and the enormous responsibility that so many physicians routinely bear can seem unendurable at times. Although resorting to drugs to relieve all that pressure is understandable given these factors, it can greatly undermine a doctor’s judgment and imperil their license.
One doctor, who went through a drug abuse crisis himself, described it in the Los Angeles Times and made reference to a phenomenon known as “physician distress.” He believes that addiction rates among the population are about 8 to 10%, while for doctors, it climbs to 10 to 15%.
Doctors can often mask their drug use so adeptly that it goes undetected by others for a long time. That, coupled with the easy availability of drugs in any hospital or healthcare setting can set the stage for a drug abuse problem.
What else makes doctors particularly vulnerable to drug addiction?
Doctors are widely assumed to be stoic, not openly emotional and more resilient than most of us. That’s a tough image to live up to. This unrealistic stereotype could physically and mentally deplete a person who tries to live up to it day after day.
Yet another reason behind doctors’ drug use is the creed, “Physician, heal thyself.” Doctors are people first. Sometimes they need a helping hand just like the rest of us. On top of that, some people think doctors are supposed to be “miracle workers” who can cure the most intractable illnesses and maladies. Add anxiety, burnout, haggling with insurance companies and depression to the mix and addiction can become the next step.
Help and recovery
There is assistance for doctors who find themselves facing drug addiction. Compassion and care, along with successful treatment, can turn things around. Having people by your side to advocate for you is also extremely important.