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Consequences Healthcare Professionals Face in Active Addiction

August 19, 2018


Healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and dentists, are the people that we turn to when we are experiencing something physically that we cannot handle on our own. Ranging from needed treatment for the common cold to requiring life-saving treatment, healthcare professionals are the ones that help us go from feeling down and out to (hopefully) feel invigorated and hopeful. And, while we all understand that healthcare professionals are people, too, it can be a bit jarring to think that thousands of them struggle with addiction.

Approximately 10-15% of physicians have a substance use disorder. While some of these physicians are in recovery, others are still in the throes of their active addiction. Unfortunately, that does not mean that those physicians who are actively addicted to substances only use when they are not working. Instead, it indicates that several physicians are impaired due to being under the influence while practicing medicine. When this is the case, both the physician and the patient are at risk.

A physician who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and who is continuing to practice medicine without obtaining addiction treatment for this disease can experience a number of consequences. And, if he or she does not get his or her addiction treated properly, he or she can lose everything.

Consequences of Active Addiction

Depending on the physician’s area of practice, a multitude of things can go wrong if he or she is more focused on using than on the wellbeing of his or her patients. Sadly, these consequences are not only applicable to the physician but also those whom he or she is treating.

Increased risk of malpractice

When physicians become licensed to practice, they must take the Hippocratic Oath. Those who read this oath aloud must promise to do no harm, as well as uphold professional and ethical standards while practicing. When a physician is under the influence, however, he or she is not of the right mind to live by this oath.

A physician can potentially do things such as prescribe a patient the wrong medication or dosage, order tests or shots that are not medically indicated, lack the appropriate bedside manner when discussing serious issues, or not be thorough during examinations, which can lead to misinformation about a client’s health. The longer a physician practices like this, the more likely his or her chances become for being punished for malpractice. This punishment can range from disciplinary action such as write-ups to more severe consequences, such as job loss or jail time. Once a physician is caught in the crossfires of a malpractice case, his or her entire career can be over.

Being stripped of licensure

In some cases, physicians get to a point in their active addiction where they are no longer operating as they used to before. Practicing in a manner that is not reflective of standards and ethics as imposed by the boards that he or she is licensed under can lead to a physician’s licensure being stripped from them. This means that they are no longer allowed to practice medicine in any capacity, even if they do become sober. This is often one of the greatest consequences that a physician will receive, because all of the schooling, money, and hard work they put into becoming a physician is all for nothing once that license is taken away.

sad nurse

Developing a reputation

The medical community, while vast, is a tight-knit community. Several different physicians know one another in their area either because they studied together, worked together at one point, have read their publications, or have even been a patient of theirs. For many, this type of closeness is often rewarding, as physicians can be sent referrals from other physicians, advance in their career based on how they network through those whom they know, and so on. However, not everyone experiences the positive effects of working in an environment like this – especially if he or she is active in his or her addiction.

Once other co-workers catch wind that a physician is under the influence while on the clock, word can spread fast throughout the medical community. And, the faster it spreads, the more likely the physician is to face potential unemployment, as well as possibly being blacklisted from the industry.

These and other consequences do not have to occur. Addiction is a disease that can be treated, and if professional care is obtained prior to events like these, a physician can go back to his or her practice once sober.

What to Do When a Healthcare Professional Has an Addiction

If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and is practicing medicine, it is imperative that the abuse ends as quickly as possible. One of the best ways to do this is by reaching out through one’s employer to develop a plan for treatment.

Most employers will support employees who need time to step away from the workplace in order to care for a mental health condition, especially if it is impacting the way in which they function while at work. Therefore, speaking with the employer, discussing what is going on, and either asking for help or informing him or her of the help that will be received, is the best first step to take. Through one’s insurance, he or she can, in most cases, have his or her job saved for when he or she comes back to work, especially if he or she is out for disability or under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

No matter what type of substance is being abused, asking for help is the best, most effective thing that one can do to not only salvage his or her career, but also save his or her life.

Get Help

If you are struggling with a substance use disorder or know someone who is, ask for help right away. Do not allow one more minute to stand between you and the treatment that can help you overcome a substance use disorder.

Call us right now. We can help you.

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for the Driven Individual


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