What To Do When You, A Health Care Provider, Finally Admit To Having A Substance Abuse Issue.

It has come to my attention that doctors, nurses, psychologists, and other health care providers are, in the end, people, and therefore they can become locked in the grip of addiction, either to drugs or alcohol. This addiction can lead to the complete ruination of a career, and I am writing here to talk to those people who can honestly admit, before it is too late, to their addiction, and what they can do to remove themselves from the impending disaster that is surely going to come to fruition.

I have several types of people who enter my office with this issue and they fall into the following categories–A. They have been discovered by their employer and have been fired from their position and are now facing the long uphill climb, which can take years, to get back into practice; and B. Those who have woken up one day and realized that they are addicts and resolved by themselves to end the addiction before they hurt a patient and before their addiction has been discovered.

The first category of people have been discharged from their employment, reported to the Department of Health, Office of Professional Medical Conduct, OPMC, or to the Department of Education, Office of Professional Discipline, OPD, and are looking at many months and in some cases years, before they can get back to the work environment. Even when they do get to go back to work they are under very close supervision. This is expensive, humiliating, and in most cases, damages a career permanently, to some extent.

The second category of people have a golden opportunity to shake off their devastating addiction while at the same time salvaging their careers. Of course, it is difficult for people to admit that they are addicted to anything, and because of that, I often see people who come to see me with a spouse or child or parent who knows the person is addicted and has forced that person to get help before it is too late. The first thing I do when I meet these clients is to call an addiction psychologist with whom I have worked for years and make an appointment with him right then and there. Then there is a referral to a physician who will be able to write prescriptions for any medications that might be necessary to assist in getting the person out of their addiction. Also, a program of random toxicology tests, usually four to six times per month, is set in place. Then the client starts to attend group and individual therapy sessions with the psychologist so that there can be an understanding of the addiction and so that a way is set in place to throw off the addiction and stay off it for life.

With the first category of client, the road back is long, hard, and expensive. The Departments of Health and Education, reasonably, require long periods of sobriety before they will trust the individual to return to practice. After returning to work there will be a requirement of having a monitor, for which the individual will have to pay, plus years of random toxicology testing which is also expensive along with additional years of continuing psychological treatment. This is a situation that everyone would like to avoid, and that can only be done if the individual can, on his or her own, admit to the problem up front and take the proper steps to rid themselves of the awful disease of addiction.

In sum, it is terribly difficult for a person to admit that they have an addiction, but if they do, then they can get on the path to sobriety which will massively benefit them, their patients, their families, and their entire circle of acquaintances. As I stated above, often it is the spouse who sees and recognizes that problem and forces the health care provider to get into treatment. Regardless of who is the initiator of the matter, the sooner the person gets into treatment, the better the chance that they will be able to successfully deal with the plague of addiction and go on to a healthy life while not ruining a medical career.