Substance abuse or dependency affects millions of Americans and their families each year, as 8.6 percent of the population aged 12 and older needed treatment for alcohol or drug abuse in 2013, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
Addiction and substance abuse are not relegated to the poor or unemployed either. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published that 9.5 percent of Americans who are employed full-time also suffer from a substance abuse disorder annually on average, based on data collected between 2008 and 2012.
High-stress jobs, deadlines, rigorous schedules and an increasing feeling of the need to get and stay ahead may lead working professionals to turn to substance abuse. Particularly at risk may be physicians who have regular access to narcotics and other addictive prescription drugs. Physicians are likely to develop a substance abuse disorder during their careers between 10 and 12 percent of the time, as published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings journal. Fentanyl and sufentanyl are potent opioid analgesics commonly abused by medical professionals. Anesthesiologists may be at an increased risk of narcotic opioid abuse, not only due to the relative ease of obtaining the drug but also the tendency to develop a pattern of abuse or dependency may also be related to secondhand exposure to these drugs during patient surgeries and medical procedures. Close to 75 percent of Florida physicians studied who were abusing or dependent on fentanyl were anesthesiologists, the Journal of Addictive Diseases reported. Approximately 10 percent of nurses in the United States are dependent on drugs as well, Modern Medicine reports.
Other professions outside of the medical field are not immune to addiction either as airline pilots, lawyers, businesspeople and many other working professionals may struggle with substance abuse or dependency.
Patterns of substance abuse may go unnoticed for longer in professionals than the general public due to an intense fear of being discovered and losing privileges, relationships, jobs, or status, which may lead to increased levels of secrecy and advanced methods of hiding addiction. Addiction is often socially stigmatized and professionals may go to great lengths to avoid detection of their substance abuse and rigorously avoid treatment until they hit what is often considered rock bottom. This “bottom” may be an overdose, legal trouble, loss of a job, the deterioration of family and personal relationships, a positive drug test, or an accident related to substance abuse. Families, coworkers, and loved ones may stage an intervention in order to facilitate an artificial rock bottom and help professionals battling substance abuse or dependency enter treatment and begin working towards recovery.
Addiction is a highly treatable brain disease and the level of care required may hinge on the level of dependency, support network, environmental factors, and genetic makeup of the substance abuser. Treatment for professionals is designed to facilitate recovery and promote a return to the workplace.
Comprehensive Treatment Methods
Working professionals are generally concerned with missing work and not being able to fulfill job-related obligations. Depending on the level of dependency and involvement of a positive support group and nurturing environment, some professionals may be able to remain at home and continue working during treatment, attending counseling, therapy and 12-Step support group meetings in the evenings or outside of work hours.
Support groups exist for all different types of professionals and substance users, and it is important to find a group you can connect with, filled with people who can relate to your specialized circumstances. Examples of peer support groups include:
- International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous
- Caduceus groups or meetings for health care professionals
- Birds of a Feather International for pilots or airline crewmembers
- AA groups for law enforcement members
For most, a comprehensive approach that includes a residential treatment program is likely to be the most successful model. Impaired physicians may be mandated to attend residential rehabilitation before being able to return to work.
Treatment may begin with detox, wherein the drugs or alcohol are safely purged from your system in a controlled manner, which may include the use of medications in order to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Residential programs may place professionals together in a private environment sensitive to their needs and conducive to the healing process.
Group and individual therapies address issues unique to professionals and related to substance abuse and addiction. Group sessions may discuss methods for maintaining or regaining professional licenses, handling patients, or access to prescription medications as well. Coping mechanisms and new life skills are taught in an effort to help professionals learn to manage the stressors and pressures of high-pressure jobs in a positive manner, as well as maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life. Education on “fit to practice” issues, assessments and preparations for returning to work are facilitated by highly trained medical or mental health professionals receptive to the unique needs of professionals. Advocacy with medical boards or legal proceedings may be a component of substance abuse treatment for professionals as one of the primary goals is often job retention and returning to work.
While counseling and therapy sessions may highlight issues of great personal interest to professionals seeking a return to work as soon as possible, they will also closely mirror traditional treatment models for substance abuse and dependency. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often employed to improve self-esteem and regain healthy emotional balance.
Substance abuse may exacerbate depression and other mood disorders, and both the addiction and the mental illness need to be managed at the same time by a team of medical professionals working together towards recovery.
Continuing Care and Recovery
In order to be able to return to work, in addition to remaining abstinent from drugs or alcohol, professionals are often required to undergo detailed assessments and evaluations to determine their readiness for reintegration. Different states and professions or companies may have specific rules or guidelines for impaired professionals returning to work. For instance, random drug testing and monitoring may be required for several months after returning to the workforce. After residential treatment is completed, professionals may live in transitional housing before returning home. These recovery communities are less structured than residential rehab and act as a go-between before fully integrating back into everyday life. Professionals may even return to work while living in one of these communities and attend meetings and therapy sessions scheduled around work hours.
Relapse prevention is an important part of the follow-up and aftercare for professionals in recovery. Peer and family support groups are imperative throughout treatment and recovery alike. Addiction fosters isolation, and positive support networks can help provide a sense of belonging and shared circumstances.
Addiction is treatable, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that 70 percent of health care professionals who suffer from substance abuse or dependency are able to return to practicing medicine successfully. A desire to maintain professionalism and keep medical licenses may heighten successful recovery rates and motivate abstinence in physicians. For instance, Psychiatric Times estimates that physicians remain abstinent at least 70 percent of the time after successfully completing a substance abuse treatment program.
Substance abuse and dependency cross over barriers between races, genders, cultures, ages and professions and may affect anyone at any time. Regardless of your personal situation, The Oaks at La Paloma has a treatment plan to suit your individual circumstances. Contact an admissions coordinator today for a free and confidential assessment.