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Substance Abuse among Doctors: The Stigma and the Truth

There is a serious problem with substance abuse among doctors, specifically among anesthesiologists. These individuals often turn to drug abuse because dangerous and addictive substances like opioids are highly available to them and because they work every day in high-stress environments. In fact, anesthesiologists have a substance abuse risk that is 2.5 times greater than that of other medical professionals.

We often believe that someone who has started abusing drugs and has become addicted was weak, that they should have been able to control their use, or that they never should have started using in the first place. As such, we are even more dismissive of doctors and nurses who abuse drugs, as many people often think they should not be able to return to their jobs even after they attend rehab. However, this logic does not take into account the way addiction changes the workings of the brain and the fact that, with treatment, a person can relearn how to behave toward addictive substances.

Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals with a substance use disorder should be given the same courtesy we give to anyone else suffering from a serious mental disorder. Treatment is necessary, and these individuals should not feel afraid to seek it out simply because of the stigma associated with addiction. In addition, research has shown that individuals in the medical field who do complete rehab are able to return to their former professions more often than not and to safely treat patients again without relapsing.

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