An Introduction to Recovery for Professionals
Recent research suggests that approximately 10% of people in the United States suffer from some type of substance use problem.
It may surprise you to learn that this statistic is the same or higher among medical and healthcare professionals. Michel A. Sucher, MD, past president of the Arizona Society of Addiction Medicine, explains that: “About 10 to 12 percent of the general population becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs at some point in their lives. For dentists and physicians, the prevalence is probably 12 to 19 percent.”
Some explanations for these numbers can be found within a study by the Journal of American Pharmacy Association.
Dr. Lisa Merlo and her team worked with one subgroup of medical professionals and pharmacists and discovered that their easy access to medications, irregular work hours, repeated emotional trauma, and extensive knowledge of pharmaceuticals were the main causes contributing to substance use issues.
One participant in the study described their experience this way:
“The reason I used opiates is because I loved getting high and drunk, but it’s very hard to conceal a liquor bottle or smoke weed anywhere you want, whereas pills were very compact and easy. So, it met all of the things I was looking for and it was convenient.”
It is evident that this pharmacist understood the connotations of being caught using “over the counter” substances (e.g. marijuana and alcohol) and, instead, was able to use their access and know-how to abuse prescription drugs.
Ironically, medical professionals with the easiest access to addictive substances often encounter additional challenges when they begin to pursue help.
Another participant from Dr. Merlo’s study remarked that pharmacists suffering from substance use disorders generally expect some type of punishment or degree of prosecution when their behavior is discovered. As a result, most felt unable to admit their problem or seek treatment.
Substance use problems among professionals (both within and outside of healthcare professions) is a well-researched and well-documented subject. Fortunately, treatment designed specifically for these groups has also been well-developed and proven to be effective.
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