Why 10-15% of U.S. Physicians Suffer from a Substance Abuse Disorder

Medscape recently revealed that 10% and 15% of U.S. physicians suffer from a substance abuse disorder. The article cited 2 surveys that physicians who met the criteria for substance abuse were more likely to say they had committed a major medical error in the previous 3 months than their peers who didn't meet the criteria.

The medical field certainly attracts many, “high-achieving, compulsive, perfectionistic individuals who derive a strong sense of self-worth from their jobs.” In many cases, these traits lead to overwork, exhaustion, and a work/life imbalance. The stress of these traits can push some doctors into abuse especially with ample access to prescription medications. The Medscape article urged doctors struggling with abuse to get help and doctors who suspect substance abuse were urged to bring it to the attention of the hospital wellness committee.

Substance abuse is a serious concern especially in the medical field. The biggest issue is that medicine is all about identifying symptoms and automatically prescribing substances to alleviate those symptoms, using substances to alleviate the stress of medical jobs is sometimes an easy prescription.

Doctors are expected to be super-human and discouraged from taking time off when they are sick or burnt out. There is also a disconnect between teaching wellness and the way doctors live themselves, and as the for-profit medical system expands, many doctors are being pushed beyond what is reasonable. Some physicians however believe that focusing on the minority of physicians who abuse substances misses the important fact that the majority of physicians lead productive lives without chemical dependencies. Certainly more productive solutions are needed so that the appropriate treatment can be given to those who need it. In that way, medical practices can focus on thriving just as much as the doctors who work there.

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