For people outside the healthcare field, it can be surprising to read about drug abuse and addiction problems within the healthcare field. After all, between a medical education and experience treating patients, no one should have a better understanding of the dangers of drug abuse and the side effects of strong prescription drugs than a doctor or nurse. But if you’re a healthcare worker yourself, you may be aware that there’s some evidence to suggest that chemical dependency in healthcare workers is a problem on the rise. You or one of your coworkers could be at risk of developing a substance abuse problem. Take a look at a few of the reasons why addiction is a risk for people in your field.
Ease of Access
The simplest explanation for the incidence of chemical dependency in healthcare workers is the easy access to potentially addictive prescription drugs. As a doctor or nurse, you are no more likely to abuse illegal street drugs than the general population, but you are significantly more at risk for abusing prescription drugs. Doctors have the power of the prescription pad at their disposal, not to mention access to samples from various drug companies. Nurses are usually the people responsible for administering drugs to patients in hospitals and residential treatment facilities, which makes drug diversion – the appropriation of legal drugs to be used illegally – a fairly simple and low-risk activity.
Ease of access is not only an issue for the already-addicted medical worker. Often it’s the impetus for the addiction in the first place. When a regular patient sustains an injury, they visit their doctor and ideally receive a prescription for pain medication only after the doctor has reviewed their medical history and decided that the prescription is appropriate. Furthermore, that patient can expect some level of oversight from the doctor – the doctor may not allow refills, or may decrease the dosage prescribed gradually over time.
If you’re a healthcare worker, however, you may find yourself able to receive prescriptions in a much more informal manner and with less oversight. A doctor is less likely to question a nurse with whom he has a professional relationship when the nurse asks for a prescription for pain medication, and may be willing to write the prescription without an exam or review of the nurse’s medical history. That nurse will also be subject to less oversight – a scenario which greatly increases the potential for the nurse to become addicted to the drug.
It doesn’t matter which area of the healthcare field happens to be your specialty – doctors and nurses have high stakes, high stress jobs in all areas of healthcare. Healthcare is a field where you’re expected to make quick, on-the-spot decisions that can have a dramatic effect on another person’s life. And those kinds of life-and-death decisions happen daily, or even multiple times a day.
On top of that, healthcare workers are also carrying the same kinds of day-to-day burdens that anyone else does. Medical school is expensive, and despite the stereotype of the rich doctor, many doctors in the U.S. enter the field heavily in debt. Nurses often work long hours, including 12 and 16 hour shifts, and may struggle with balancing work and family life. These are exactly the kinds of stressors that contribute to substance abuse in people who are prone to addiction.
Difficulty Obtaining Help
You may also find that asking for and receiving help for chemical dependency is more difficult for you as a healthcare worker than it might be if you were in another field. The stigma attached to chemical dependency in the healthcare field may allow addiction to flourish, as those who struggle with the problem are highly motivated to keep their drug problems as quiet and difficult to see as possible. You may fear that admitting to an addiction will bring about the end of your professional career.
Furthermore, medical facilities that employ doctors and nurses are motivated to keep drug abuse among employees quiet. Encouraging substance abuse treatment and supporting employees who are affected by substance abuse problems is a risk for medical facilities. They may lose business if word gets out that they have employees with substance abuse problems. The result is a culture of silence that surrounds the problem of chemical dependency in healthcare workers and impedes the possibility of progress on that issue.
Despite the barriers to treatment experienced by medical professionals, it’s vitally important that you receive treatment if you’re struggling with substance abuse. Do it for your own sake, and for the sake of your patients as well. Drug rehabilitation organizations often offer programs specifically designed to address the needs and challenges faced by healthcare workers. If you or someone you know is a healthcare worker with a substance abuse problem, it’s time to click here to find out more and begin looking into drug treatment options in your area.