Valiant Living Blog

Sophisticated Treatment for Medical Professionals Who Turned to Drugs and Alcohol

Written by Valiant Living Recovery on Monday, May 9th, 2022

Healthcare professionals generally promote healthy habits in their patients and mostly pursue healthy lifestyles themselves. Somewhat surprisingly, though, healthcare professionals, including doctors, have similar rates of substance misuse and addiction as the general population (around ten percent), but they demonstrate significantly higher levels of opioid misuse.

Some estimate that up to 15 percent of doctors may be addicted to drugs. One such doctor was Peter Grinspoon. As he recounts in his book Free Refills, he was addicted to opioids and almost ruined his career over his addiction. “Doctors are prone to drug and alcohol abuse,” Dr. Grinspoon wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed in 2016.  “It’s estimated that rates of addiction among the general population run from 8 percent to 10 percent; among physicians, the rates start at 10 percent and rise to 15 percent. What appears to account for the difference is physician distress, and in the case of drug abuse, plentiful access.”

For Grinspoon, “plentiful” access in medical school meant misusing samples and stealing drugs from nurses’ stations. “Slowly, imperceptibly, as medical school went by, my seeking out, obtaining, and use of these medications escalated,” Grinspoon wrote in Free Refills. When Grinspoon started working in a Boston hospital, he had his own prescription pad, a situation he compared to “giving a book of matches to a pyromaniac.” 

In her book Hooked, a short guide to the mechanics of addiction, Arwen Podesta, MD, offered the formula: Biology (genetics and epigenetics) + Stress (especially trauma) + Drug (availability) = Risk of Addiction. Medical professionals are typically under quite a lot of stress and have access to powerful narcotics. And long hours at work can lead to isolation—especially for physicians early in their careers.

“Although physicians’ elevated social status brings many tangible and intangible rewards, it also has an isolating effect when they are confronted with a disease such as addiction, which has a social stigma. This isolation can lead to disastrous consequences, both in delaying the recognition of and in intervening in the disease process, as well as in the attendant risk of death by inadvertent overdose or suicide,” wrote Berge, Seppala, MD, and Schipper in their 2009 study “Chemical Dependency and the Physician.”

“Further causes for delay in diagnosis include fear on the part of the physician that disclosure of an addictive illness might cause loss not only of prestige but also of his or her license to practice medicine and thus livelihood. Additionally, a physician’s family members and coworkers will often participate in a ‘conspiracy of silence’ in an effort to protect the family or practice workers from economic ruin by the loss of the physician’s job and income.”

Needless to say, a “conspiracy of silence” is not the help an addicted person needs. Addiction is a progressive disease and prolonged denial is likely to exacerbate the condition. Medical professionals suffering from a severe substance use disorder greatly benefit from a treatment approach specifically geared toward their specific needs.

Addiction to opioids, for example, often requires medically supervised detoxification followed by psychotherapy that addresses all relevant factors such as stress and trauma. Valiant Living Professionals Program for Men treats doctors and other working professionals who need to balance a deep search for recovery with a busy career that demands attention. 

Patients requiring acute primary treatment services may begin their recovery journey at our sister program, Valiant Living Detox and Assessment. The 16-bed facility is only 35 minutes from Denver International Airport an d provides comprehensive care beyond withdrawal management to begin their recovery journey.

Our trained staff utilize the most progressive therapy techniques to offer the highest quality care to help professionals understand and harmonize their minds and help them heal. We provide individual therapy, group therapy, psycho-educational classes, workshops, and more to help restore the harm created by intimacy disorders and other addictions.

We also know that professionals need to balance a deep search for recovery with a work-life that demands attention. Our Professionals Program is designed to do just that, with a number of therapeutic options for men with challenging careers and a busy lifestyle. If you or a loved one has turned to drugs or alcohol to keep up at work and manage a high degree of daily stress, don’t hesitate to reach out for help by calling us today at 720-669-1285.