Substance Abuse in Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare workers have demanding jobs that can take a toll on their physical and mental health. Unfortunately, one of the highest rates of workplace substance misuse is among healthcare professionals.

Drug abuse in doctors and drug-addicted nurses requires unique treatment. It should focus on healthy outlets for caregiving stress and emotional pain of caregiving.

Statistics on Substance Misuse in Healthcare Professionals

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over 100,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and healthcare aides misuse drugs and alcohol. Drug abuse in doctors and rates of nurses and addiction is steadily dropping. However, it’s still a big problem.

Alcohol Misuse Statistics

Alcohol misuse is a problem across the country. For example, around 7 percent of adults are considered heavy drinkers. Data shows the number is much higher in doctors, with 12.9 percent of male physicians and 21.9 percent of female physicians misuse alcohol.

Prescription Drug Misuse Statistics

Misuse in Healthcare Professionals

Drug abuse in doctors often includes opioids, benzodiazepines, and other prescription medications. Stress, depression, and pain are often the causes of drug-addicted nurses. Anesthesiologists struggle with addiction the most, with fentanyl the most frequently misused.

A survey of 55 doctors on substance misuse found 69 percent of doctors misuse prescription drugs at least once during their career. The three main reasons being high levels of stress along with physical and mental pain. Overall, drug abuse in doctors and drug-addicted nurses is 5 times higher than in the general public.

Why Are the Rates of Nurses and Addiction and Drug Misuse in Doctors So High?

The field of healthcare is a tough and demanding career. As a result, many factors increase the risk of drug-addicted nurses and drug abuse in doctors.


Doctors and nurses generally have easy access to medications and controlled substances. Unfortunately, having this access and a lack of medication tracking increases the temptation and misuse of drugs.


Being responsible for the health and well-being of patients can be overwhelming and extremely stressful. Many times there is a shortage of staff which increases the workload. As a result of chronic stress, rates of substance abuse in healthcare professionals continually grow.


The United States Department of Labor estimates 92 percent of registered nurses are female. Furthermore, women often have a more intense addiction journey than men. For example, women may take lower doses than males; however, their addiction progresses faster. Women are also at higher risk of recurrence of use than males.

Physical Pain

Healthcare professionals do a lot of standing, bending, walking, and stretching. Combined with moving and lifting patients, doctors and nurses are vulnerable to back injuries. And like any person given narcotic pain medication, doctors and nurses often misuse these medications.


Doctors and nurses often work long, rotating 12-hour shifts. They are often on-call and work nights, weekends, and holidays. This can lead to poor health and burnout. Substance abuse in healthcare professionals is often the result of trying to relax after a grueling shift.

Lack of Knowledge About Drug Misuse in Doctors

While every nurse and doctor understands that certain medications (such as opioids and benzos) risk misuse and addiction, many don’t know what an addiction really is.

This lack of knowledge promotes stigmas and stereotypes surrounding nurses and addiction, preventing many from seeking treatment. Drug abuse in doctors is also associated with higher suicide rates. For instance, this translates into 40 percent higher in male doctors and 130 percent in females compared to the general public.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Misuse in Healthcare Professionals

Prescription drug misuse is a common issue within the medical field. Many doctors and nurses will treat their own pain. And because doctors and nurses are aware of the symptoms and side effects, they can be very good at hiding their addiction.

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse in doctors and drug-addicted nurses may include:

  • Prefers night shifts because of less supervision
  • Falls asleep on the job
  • Likes working overtime and taking extra shifts
  • Volunteers to give narcotic medication to patients
  • Takes frequent bathroom breaks
  • Missing work
  • Smells of alcohol or uses excessive breath mints
  • Financial or relationship trouble
  • Glossy eyes or dilated pupils
  • Incomplete work
  • Mood swings
  • Avoiding co-workers

How Does Substance Misuse in Nurses and Doctors Affect Patients?

nurses and addiction

With over 100,000 healthcare professionals struggling with substance misuse, it raises various concerns such as patient safety. Drug-addicted nurses and doctors under the influence or going through withdrawals can make mistakes such as giving the wrong medication, messing up surgeries, and giving an incorrect diagnosis.

Drug diversion is when a drug prescribed for one person or patient is taken by another person, such as the nurse or doctor. This is illegal and can cause significant harm to the patient. It is also why strict monitoring when administering narcotics can reduce the risk of drug-addicted nurses.

Treating Substance Misuse in Healthcare Professionals

Doctors and nurses help people overcome diseases, including substance misuse and addiction. But, this does not make them immune to substance misuse. Furthermore, treating substance abuse in healthcare professionals comes with unique challenges.

For instance, many healthcare professionals are hesitant to admit they have a problem. They may fear the repercussions at work, or they may not even realize they have an issue. While some doctors and nurses may be forced to choose between their career or treatment, they often find it necessary and beneficial.

Treatment of substance abuse in healthcare professionals will address:

  • Restoring one’s career and reputation
  • The process of returning to practice
  • Handling disciplinary matters
  • Avoiding triggers at work and home
  • Participation in monitoring programs
  • Aftercare

Therapies to Treat Substance Misuse in Healthcare Professionals

The addiction journey for each medical professional is unique and personal. Therefore, their recovery treatment plan must also be personalized. With the right treatments and the willingness to recover, healthcare professionals have high rates of lasting recovery.

Therapies in treating drug abuse in doctors and drug-addicted nurses include:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy or individual therapy
  • Holistic and alternative therapies
  • Relapse prevention therapy
  • Aftercare plans and support

Medical Detox for Medical Professionals With Substance Misuse Disorders

The safest and most effective method of detox is under medical supervision. Medical detox programs help drug-addicted nurses overcome and manage withdrawal symptoms from opioids, alcohol, and benzos.

While in detox, a comprehensive treatment plan is established. While detox is essential to recovery, it’s not a treatment. To successfully handle temptations and triggers, people need to complete a continuum of care program.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment or MAT combines medication and behavioral therapies to treat addiction. Medications such as naloxone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine are highly effective in treatment. However, members must be closely monitored for misuse of these drugs.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy. CBT aims to change a member’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions to treat mental health and substance use disorders. CBT is very beneficial for drug-addicted nurses in recognizing potential triggers.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

A form of CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), focuses on building healthy behavioral skills. For example, doctors and nurses deal with stress daily, which caters to their unhealthy habits of substance misuse. But, DBT teaches mindfulness, regulating emotions, and effective methods to manage the stressors in life.

Holistic Therapy

Prescription Drug Misuse Statistics

Holistic therapy is often called “whole person” treatment because it heals the body, mind, and spirit. So, in holistic therapies, the goal is to bring balance back to the whole person. Furthermore, holistic therapies are not specifically religious therapies, but they are spiritual therapies where you seek understanding through self-care.

Holistic therapies include but are not limited to the following:


Yoga is a form of exercise and holistic treatment which uses postures and body movements to encourage relaxation and meditation. It can be effective in treating drug abuse in doctors by:

  • Encouraging more exercise
  • Healthy eating habits
  • Improving sleep
  • Decreasing stress
  • Reducing cravings for drugs and alcohol

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness is the art of being fully present at the moment. It is opening your mind to greater awareness and understanding of ourselves. Meditation is a form of mindfulness that uses focused breathing to clear the mind.


Journaling is a holistic therapy. By writing down your thoughts, goals, successes, and setbacks in your journey, journaling keeps you present and focused on your recovery goals. Journaling can also help identify negative thoughts and behavior patterns.

Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan is essential when preparing to leave addiction treatment. Although doctors and nurses have lower relapse rates, 40 to 60 percent of the general public relapse after treatment. So, having a plan of action when triggers and cravings become overwhelming can differentiate between lasting recovery and a recurrence of use.

Sana Lake Treats Substance Abuse in Healthcare Professionals

At Sana Lake, we understand the unique challenges of drug abuse in doctors. Don’t let the negative stigmas and stereotypes about nurses and addiction stop you from getting the help you need. Find out more about our program for substance abuse in healthcare professionals by contacting us today.