In a study published recently, doctors who abuse prescription drugs are noted as doing so for self-medication purposes. The study reported some reasons cited by doctors for self-medicating were based on physical pain, emotional distress or stress relief. The study provides unique insights into why doctors self-medicate and abuse prescription drugs.
Why Self-Medication Matters
Anonymous discussion groups were conducted with fifty-five physicians in treatment for substance abuse in the study. Researchers discussed reasons for prescription drug use in the focus group. Doctors were monitored for substance use as part of the state physician health program. Of the focus group, sixty-nine percent abused prescription drugs along with alcohol and other illicit drugs. The three main reasons doctors self-medicated focused on:
- Physical pain – a drug habit developed while using medication for chronic pain following trauma or surgery.
- Emotional pain – some doctors pointed out self-medication by prescription drugs helped deal with chronic anxiety or depression issues
- Work and life stress – self-medication was effective for stress relief related to personal or professional lives
Prevention of Abuse
Physicians the study noted drug use was recreational while others noted drug use was related to withdrawal symptoms. The rate of drug use by doctors is similar to the general population while access makes it easier for physicians to abuse drugs. Substance abuse and self-medication is the most common challenge for doctors and if substance abuse is suspected. Colleagues must report the doctor. Doctors who self-medicate and abuse drugs may represent a certain subset of doctors within the population and different methods of intervention and prevention may be effective. Possible areas of prevention may include:
- Drug education starting at commencement of medical training
- Required continuing education throughout career of a doctor
- Encouragement for doctors to seek qualified medical care for physical and emotional pain
Self-medication for pain is not unique to doctors. People in the general population deal with health issues which force the individual to take pain medication to mitigate symptoms. Pain management is difficult without the use of medication and can slip without notice into drug dependence and addiction. Doctors who wrestle with addiction to drugs or alcohol may face some stigma in the profession and fear repercussions which result in the loss of the license to practice medicine when addiction is uncovered. Education about prevention of drug use and avenues to explore help without fear of repercussion may help lower stigma and support individuals in seeking help to recover in both professional and personal areas of a doctor’s life.
The Villa provides resources and information for any individual seeking help regardless of profession. If you are struggling with addiction, call us. We can help you find the path to recovery and healing.