Clinicians and Substance Abuse

Clinicians and Substance Abuse

Although medical professionals often know the most about drug or alcohol addiction hazards, they are not immune to falling into a substance use disorder. In fact, the correlation between clinicians and substance abuse can be all too common for those struggling to cope with the stressors that come with these intense jobs.

The High Rates Of Clinicians And Substance Abuse Are Staggering

A substance abuse disorder, or a physical and mental reliance on drugs or alcohol, affects a larger percentage of clinicians than what might be expected. One study found that 12.9% of male physicians and 21.4% of female physicians met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence.1 Furthermore, it is estimated that 14% to 20% of nurses are misusing and abusing substances.2

What Are The Factors That Lead Clinicians To Abuse Drugs and Alcohol?

A few factors are working together to contribute to the correlation between healthcare clinicians and substance abuse:

#1: Easier Access To Prescription Drugs

Prescription opioid abuse is particularly problematic for physicians.3 One of the reasons why the rate of clinician substance abuse is higher for physicians than in other professions is the easy access to prescription drugs found in hospitals and different medical settings.

Prescription opioid drugs such as morphine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are prevalent in medical settings. These drugs treat patients with severe pain after surgery or those struggling with a painful health condition. Due to their highly addictive nature, prescription opioids are some of the most dangerous substances a person can abuse. 

#2: High Stress and Burnout Levels

There is no question that the pressures of serving as a healthcare professional come with more stress and burnout than the average job. Whether it’s a doctor, nurse, or mental health clinician, all of these jobs have immense responsibility towards caring for another person’s life. Sometimes the patient’s life depends entirely on their ability to perform well in their job.

In addition to this pressure, many clinicians face stress from working long, sometimes overnight shifts, balancing too many patients at one time, a lack of work-life balance, and lack of sleep, to name a few. These multiple levels of stress can lead clinicians to experience burnout, increasing their risk for substance abuse.

One study on surgeons revealed the correlation between physician burnout and substance abuse. Researchers found that 15.4% of the surgeons in the study met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. Those who reported feeling burned out or depressed have a higher risk, especially those with emotional exhaustion and depersonalization from burnout.4

#3: High Rates of Mental Health Conditions

The rates of mental health disorders in the healthcare community are concerning. Researchers found that 21.7% of healthcare workers experienced depression, 22.1% experienced anxiety during the pandemic alone, and over 21% experienced PTSD.5 Since 18.2% of those with mental illness also have a substance use disorder, many individuals fall into using substances to cope with their mental health conditions.6 Healthcare professionals are also at risk of using this unhealthy strategy.

The Bottom Line: Clinicians Need More Mental Health Resources And Support

The troubling reality of substance abuse in healthcare negatively impacts both the clinician and the quality of care they give their patients. For all that clinicians work to help others live a happier and healthier life, they deserve the same level of attention and care when struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. This is why clinicians need support and treatment for addiction as much as anyone else. 

Clear Life Recovery Supports Clinicians Through Recovery

Clear Life Recovery is here to support clinicians as they seek to return to health and sobriety. We offer a wide range of programs, including anxiety, group, holistic, and other therapy programs. Our center has helped countless patients begin and maintain a healthy and sober life.

To learn more about our facility, please contact us to speak with a member of our team. 



About Benjamin Hogan

Over the years, Benjamin has held positions in many different areas of alcohol and drug addiction services all over the country. He made a name for himself as an interventionist and has held certification as a Certified National Drug and Alcohol Interventionist (CNDAI-II). Benjamin specializes in helping support families of people struggling with addiction by focusing on education and instilling healthy boundaries to ensure lasting changes. Addiction is a progressive disease, but using an evidence-based approach, an intervention, when done correctly, can help to increase the willingness of a loved one to seek sobriety faster. "In my experience, by helping families make necessary changes, they not only get their lives back, but they also help change the mind of their loved one more quickly. In an intervention, family and other loved ones take a proactive approach, instead of waiting and being stuck between fear and (false) hope. I realized in my own recovery, that when my family changed, I had to change in response. That is where I found sobriety. This is why I believe in what I do!"