A 2014 study revealed an estimated 10% to 14% of healthcare practitioners will suffer from addiction in their lifetime. That may not seem like a very large number to some, but it is substantial when doctors fear punishment for seeking treatment.
Although lawmakers and officials are beginning to recognize addiction as a disease, and are treating it as such, physicians are still feeling stigmatized. Director of the Addiction Treatment for Health Care Professionals program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Dr. Marc Myer, stated “Some healthcare systems, unfortunately, have drifted more toward criminalizing substance abuse in the workplace.”
Why can most physicians treat the disease of addiction with compassion and understanding, but cannot do it for one of their own? Some would like to argue that doctors need to be held at a higher standard, because they have people’s lives in their hands. Obviously we cannot disregard the danger of injuring or killing a patient when a doctor is impaired. Nonetheless, if a doctor is afraid of losing everything, they are more likely not to seek treatment. This continues to place patients in harms way.
More will argue that fear is created by a lack of knowing their options. Doctors simply have no awareness of treatment resources available to them for their drug and alcohol problem. Some professionals have said the Medical Boards in each state were created for such issues.
What they fail to realize is this. When a doctor enters a PHP (Physician Health Program), they are instructed to sign a consent form with the medical board if they want to keep their license. This consent form not only implies their intent to stay sober, but also stays on their record for 5 years. Although the form’s intention is good, it’s almost always perceived negatively by hiring professionals. One doctor stated “If you have one of those on your record some places won’t even interview you.”
The stigma of addiction, which is perceived as a moral character issue and not a disease, is still alive and well in some professional fields. The problem lies within the limited amount of training and education on how to treat addiction. Although medical schools are beginning to recognize the importance on this issue, it may take an entire generation to change the perception of addiction as a disease and not a choice.
It seems apparent that when a doctor is an addict, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are at risk of not only hurting themselves but others, and on the other they worry about facing harsh measures and losing it all. No addict should ever fear seeking treatment. It is already difficult to ask for help, we do not need to make it harder for physicians.
For over 4 decades, Clearbrook has helped a large variety of individuals, some of those being healthcare professionals. If you work in the healthcare field and have a problem with drugs and alcohol, we could help. We will treat you with dignity and respect and give you best quality care for your addiction. If you have any questions regarding treatment options, please contact our Admissions Specialists today.