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Can Addiction Happen Among Healthcare Workers?

Can Addiction Happen Among Healthcare Workers?

Did you know that doctors and nurses account for some of the highest rates of addiction in the workforce? Healthcare workers may develop substance addiction when they use drugs or alcohol to cope with work-related stress. There are a few key reasons for this phenomenon: high levels of stress and high accessibility to drugs. The latter sets health professionals apart from other working professionals.

What Are Common Signs of Addiction Among Health Professionals?

Many health professionals who struggle with substance use disorders appear to be highly functioning. Some use drugs as a way to stay alert on all-day or overnight shifts. Others rely on drugs to escape emotional pain from witnessing tragedies in a medical environment. With time, substance use can affect their behaviors and work performance.

Some common signs of addiction among the general population include anxiety, depression, changes in appearance, absenteeism, financial difficulties, and relationship conflicts. Health professionals with substance addiction can experience any of these symptoms and tend to show more behavioral changes. Some may prefer night shifts because there is less supervision and easier access to medication. They may often volunteer to administer narcotics to patients.

What Are the Causes?

Most healthcare professions require unpredictable and exhausting work hours. They often need to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that have life-or-death consequences. All these factors make working in the healthcare field a very high-stress experience. Although doctors and nurses are trained to practice self-care, their schedules sometimes do not allow them the time to do so.

Many health professionals are tempted to use substances such as oxycodone and fentanyl because of the easy access. When they are not properly accounted for as they administer these drugs to patients, it can be easy to pocket a dose for recreational use. Health professionals also have an extensive understanding of the effects these drugs have on people. This may give them false confidence that they can get things under control while trying to achieve a high.

What Is the Risk of Substance Addiction Among Health Professionals?

Medical professionals are human beings, and their brains can develop the same changes as people in other professions who struggle with substance abuse do. Because they are confident in medical knowledge, it may be more difficult for medical professionals to accept that they have an addiction that is out of control and needs treatment.

Medical professionals who develop substance dependence often self-isolate. Fearing that it will harm their career, they tend to bury their issues deeper. This does not reverse addiction but rather creates even riskier situations at work. For example, they are more likely to neglect patients’ health or cause accidents during work due to unresolved mental and emotional issues or lingering effects of the drug.

Can Medical Professionals Heal From Addiction?

There are specialized treatment programs that cater specifically to medical professionals. Some guide them through recovery toward a fresh start in their careers. A few states even have programs that help health professionals recover while ensuring they won’t lose their license. The good news is that once they get proper treatment, medical professionals as a group have one of the lowest rates of relapse.

Addiction treatment for medical professionals may integrate the unique needs and concerns of this group into their counseling and therapies. Common issues include how to restore one’s career and reputation, how to address licensing and disciplinary matters, and how to participate in monitoring programs that mitigate relapse. These structures are built-in to help medical professionals to be optimistic about their long-term recovery.

How Should Health Professionals Support and Monitor Each Other?

Early intervention is key, and for health professionals, mutual monitoring is critical for early intervention. Co-workers are in the best place to notice the aberrant behaviors that are typical of people who struggle with substance addiction. The fear of speaking out may foster an enabling culture among health practitioners, so healthcare units should raise awareness about these warning signs and encourage mutual aid. 

Every health professional can play an active role in building a workplace culture that prioritizes self-care. It is critical for them to pay attention to their own emotional health to remain effective in their roles and stay healthy themselves. Self-care may show up in simple exercises such as using hand washing as an opportunity for a moment of mindfulness. Create a routine of self-management by focusing on what is in one’s control. By narrowing the attention scope, one can replace overwhelming issues with doable tasks.

Self-compassion is important. Enough sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise can help health professionals stay resilient. They also need to build a strong support system. Call on family and friends and share with them what brings meaning and purpose to one’s work. Planning a personal retreat or keeping a gratitude journal can also be helpful. There should be more workplace programs that coach health professionals in following through with these self-care methods.

Do you how to cope with work-related stress so that it does not build up? Counseling or therapy may help you identify and develop specific coping strategies to manage stress. If you suffer from chronic work-related stress, seek help from mental health professionals. Therapists can teach relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing techniques, and mindfulness to deal with an unhealthy build-up of stress. For some people, chronic stress can lead to substance use disorders as they seek out drugs or alcohol to numb out the symptoms and causes stress placed on them at work. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals can coach you through recovering from addiction and managing stress. Schedule an appointment with us today to discover how we can help you. Call us at (866) 229-9923, and we will be happy to talk with you about short-term and long-term recovery plans.