Addiction in Medical Professionals

Doctors and nurses can be affected by addiction just like anyone else. If left untreated, this can lead to many negative effects for medical professionals and patients alike.

Substance Abuse in Health Care

Doctors and nurses account for one of the highest rates of addiction in the workforce.

Just as with other working professionals facing an addiction, there are many reasons a medical professional might turn to drugs or alcohol. They could be looking for a way to stay alert on an all-day or overnight shift or a way to escape the emotional pain from a day of hard decisions and upsetting outcomes.

What sets doctors and nurses apart from other professionals is their accessibility to highly sought-after drugs. It’s easier for them to get the drugs and it’s easier to create or feed an addiction.

The rate at which doctors and nurses suffer from addiction may be high, but this group of people also has a high rate of recovery when they seek out treatment.

Signs of Addiction within Medical Professionals

Recognizing a drug or alcohol dependence in doctors or nurses can be difficult because many are considered to be highly functional addicts. This means that they are able to maintain their career, home life, and substance abuse for a period of time without others noticing.

Common signs of addiction in doctors and nurses include:

  • Changing jobs frequently.
  • Preferring night shifts where there is less supervision and more access to medication.
  • Falling asleep on the job or in-between shifts.
  • Volunteering often to administer narcotics to patients.
  • Anxiousness about working overtime or extra shifts.
  • Taking frequent bathroom breaks or unexplained absences.
  • Smelling of alcohol or excessively using breath mints or mouthwash.
  • Extreme financial, relationship, or family stress.
  • Glassy eyes or small pupils.
  • Unusually friendly relationship with doctors that prescribe medications.
  • Incomplete charting or repeated errors in paperwork.

Why Medical Professionals Turn to Drugs or Alcohol

There are many unique aspects of a doctor or nurse’s profession that makes them more likely than other occupations to form a substance addiction.

A common reason that medical professionals may be tempted to abuse substances, such as Oxycodone or Fentanyl, is the easy access they have to powerful prescription medications that aren’t properly accounted for as they are administered.

They have an extensive understanding of the effects these substances have and may be motivated to try to mimic these sensations in themselves in order to produce a high or euphoria.

Along with their unpredictable and exhausting work hours, medical professionals are required to make spur-of-the-moment decisions regarding their patients’ health and well-being. If they feel responsible for a certain outcome or come to regret a choice that was made, this can greatly affect their emotions and mental state.

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The Effects of Addiction In The Workplace

An addicted medical professional is more likely than their non-addicted colleagues to cause an accident in the workplace or neglect patients’ health. They may be distracted on the job or abruptly leave important appointments or surgical procedures to use drugs.

“Sometimes I’d be standing in the operating room and it’d look like I had the flu. So I’d excuse myself and I’d run into the bathroom, eat 10 [Tylenols with codeine], and in maybe five or 10 minutes I’d be normal again.” – Richard Ready, former chief resident of neurosurgery at a prominent Chicago hospital

Doctors and nurses suffering from addiction are not just putting their own health at risk, but the well-being of patients in their care. It may be hard for a medical professional to accept they have an addiction. However, the sooner that the addiction is faced head on, the better. This will help prevent accidents on the job or not attending to important signs of health issues in patients.

Medical Professionals Substance Abuse Statistics


According to Journal of Clinical Nursing, approximately 20% of all nurses struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

1 in 10

1 in 10 physicians will fall into drug or alcohol abuse at some point in their lives, mirroring the general population.


Physicians who receive treatment and participate in ongoing monitoring have a far lower rate of relapse, with 71% still sober, licensed and employed after 5 years.

Treatment for Addiction Among Medical Professionals

Doctors and nurses are not immune to addiction. Thankfully, there are treatment programs that cater specifically to medical professionals, offering them a fresh, healthy start.

There are a number of states that offer treatment programs to help doctors and nurses recover from an addiction while ensuring they won’t lose their license or practice. These programs help guide medical professionals through recovery and provide ways to avoid triggers once back in the workplace.

Aspects that addiction treatment for medical professionals will address include:

  • Restoring your career and reputation.
  • Returning to a professional practice.
  • Addressing licensing and disciplinary matters.
  • Avoiding potential triggers in and outside of the workplace.
  • Participation in monitoring programs.
  • Establishing continued after-care.

Medical professionals have reason to be optimistic while in recovery. They share a much higher average rate of maintaining sobriety after treatment. This highest rate of success stems from being enrolled in a treatment program where the staff members are familiar with treating medical professionals and the challenges that come with this type of addiction. They will work alongside you to get to the root of what caused your addiction and guide you through the process of restoring your health.

If you are a doctor or nurse facing an addiction and need help finding a treatment center, please contact us now.