A recent study in the October issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine revealed the common abuse of prescription painkillers by doctors and medical professionals to cope with the physical and emotional stress of their careers. The study suggested that prescription drug abuse among doctors eclipses that of other people. These findings provide further evidence of the vulnerability to addiction among professionals in high-pressure careers, whether they’re physicians, lawyers, executives, etc. They also illustrate the need for specialty treatment that provides both expert addiction care and a post-treatment recovery plan that allows them to rebuild their careers.
In addition to commonly abused prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, the study also found a significant rate of the abuse of sedatives and stimulants. Many of the participants said they were self-medicating for the physical and emotional stress they encounter in their jobs on a daily basis, and admitted to suffering conditions such as depression, anxiety and chronic pain. Doctors commonly believe they can control their own doses, but frequently wind up using painkillers in a manner inconsistent with their pain specialist’s or primary care physician’s orders.
In many cases, use of a legitimate prescription spills over into self-mediation for personal stress. One doctor reported taking pills prescribed for dental surgery to ease the pain the personal dysfunction in their lives. With heightened access to prescription drugs and the high-pressure nature of their jobs, it’s easy to see how so many doctors wind up succumbing to prescription abuse and ultimately needing professional treatment. Some of the doctors in the study started out by writing their own scripts or getting them from a trusted colleague. Given the powerful nature of these drugs, doctors tend to require a more intense level of treatment.
The unique nature of physician prescription abuse and the special circumstances that dictate the development and continuation of substance abuse requires the availability of treatment options that offers targeted and specific treatment for medical professionals. The more focused and personalized treatment is, the more patients will be able to concentrate on the special areas of their lives that have suffered due to their substance abuse and develop avoidance exercises to sustain recovery. Added professional and personal stress are leading causes of patients’ post-treatment slips. By providing safety nets that address these issues within the context of treatment, we can help mitigate the likelihood of stress-induced relapse.