Alcoholism And Medical Professionals
Although alcohol abuse is common in many professions, few problems are as serious as that of alcoholism and medical professionals.
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The Problem of Alcoholism and Medical Professionals
Medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and paramedics, save thousands of lives every day, having committed their career to the wellness of others. However, many healthcare professionals find themselves the victims of substance abuse issues. In particular, alcoholism, and medical professionals with alcoholism, are an all too common, and dangerous, combination.
Studies report that at least 10 to 12 percent of healthcare professionals will develop a substance use disorder during their careers, including at least 1 in 10 physicians, and 1 in 5 nurses. These numbers are higher than the general population; however, they are likely even larger than this because medical professionals are notorious for underreporting substance abuse disorders.
Explaining Alcoholism and Medical Professionals
It is obvious that patients are at substantially greater risk of injury or other forms of malpractice when doctors or nurses are under the influence of alcohol or battling with an alcohol addiction. It is less obvious why so many medical professionals ignore these risks.
Healthcare workers often work demanding 12-hour (or longer) shifts, which can drain them of all their energy, making alcohol seem like a quick and easy mood elevator. Exposure to high-stress situations, such as emergency crises, and emotional exhaustion can cause medical professionals to seek comfort in the form of alcohol.
Medical staff who connect with patients may become saddened when they cannot save them from ill health. This can take a toll on medical professionals, and they may abuse alcohol to cope. Medical professionals may also have underlying mental disorders, which can seem temporarily masked by substance abuse.
Medical Professionals and Other Forms of Substance Abuse
In addition to attempting to sooth stress and sadness with alcohol, medical professionals often turn to other mind-altering substances as well. The availability of prescription drugs can create temptation for recreational use. Drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids can be used to “relax” during taxing shifts, and stimulants can provide energy to combat shift burnout. Unfortunately, medical professionals sometimes mix alcohol and other drugs creating an even more dangerous combination.
Signs of Alcoholism in Medical Professionals
Doctors and nurses who abuse alcohol are typically considered high-functioning alcoholics. This refers to someone who drinks an unhealthy amount of alcohol but still balances a successful career or personal life. It is often more challenging for friends and family of high-functioning alcoholics to identify a problem because the alcoholic is so good at masking their condition. For the same reasons, high-functioning alcoholics are also more likely to deny that they have a problem. However, there are identifiable signs, including:
- Frequent absences or breaks during a shift
- Alcohol on breath
- Tardiness to work
- Slurred speech
- Hidden bottles
- Frequent hangovers
- Mood swings/ irritability
- Poor hygiene
- Aggression/ violent behavior (at work or domestic disturbances)
If you or a medical professional you love are exhibiting such signs of alcohol dependence, please contact a treatment professional to learn about rehab options. Treatment can end the cycle of abuse, while saving their career and the lives of their patients.
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Risks for Addicted Medical Professionals
The risk posed by alcoholism and medical professionals is dependent on the type of work the medical professional does. Surgeons, for instance, need to complete surgical procedures with minimal to no injuries, meaning their alcohol abuse carries some of the greatest risk. Despite this, 1 in 6 surgeons abuse alcohol. Alcohol abuse can impact the quality of a surgeon’s work, especially if they are intoxicated or experiencing withdrawal while at work.
Other risks medical professionals can have on the job as a result of alcohol abuse include:
- Misdiagnosing health conditions
- Administering the wrong dosages of medication
- Unprofessional temperament
- Shift absence
- Mistakes in making incisions
- Inability to focus
- Putting patients’ lives at risk
- Being sued for malpractice
- Contamination and/or infection
Getting Treated Now
Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals experience highly distressing experience on a daily basis, but abusing alcohol only proves to be a short-term solution with very dangerous consequences. Treatment professionals are available to assist healthcare professionals in achieving sobriety. Rehab is highly effective in restoring the individual to a healthy state, while reducing the rate of relapse.
Treatment facilities can provide treatment and detox, while ensuring medical professionals keep their license. They provide information on avoiding triggers, keeping careers and reputations intact, and licensing and disciplinary matters. Medical professionals in rehab can even connect with other medical professionals to build mutually beneficial bonds. To find out more, contact a professional today.
- Medical Reviewer — Last Reviewed: April 12, 2019
PhysicianHealthProgram.com. (2017). Why Do Doctors Get Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol? Retrieved on May 7, 2018 at https://www.physicianhealthprogram.com/why-doctors-get-addicted/
PhysicianHealthProgram.com. (2017). The Problem of Surgeons and Drinking. Retrieved on May 7, 2018 at https://www.physicianhealthprogram.com/addiction-news/the-problem-of-surgeons-and-drinking/
PhysicianHealthProgram.com. (2015). Drug-Addicted Doctors and Health Care Professionals? Retrieved on May 7, 2018 at https://www.physicianhealthprogram.com/addiction-news/drug-addicted-doctors-health-care-professionals/
Elsier, Peter. (2014). Doctors, Medical Staff on Drugs Put Patients At Risk. Retrieved on May 7, 2018 at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/15/doctors-addicted-drugs-health-care-diversion/7588401/
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