Where to Find Help for Physician Substance Abuse

Within the context of substance abuse, the physician may well receive automatic immunity simply because of his or her role within the medical profession. Albeit so, physicians are nonetheless human and subject to life’s difficulties and challenges.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, an estimated 10 to 12 percent of physicians will fall prey to the lures of physician substance abuse, a rate that’s similar to the general population. In light of the physician’s elevated social status, it becomes all the more difficult to recognize and confront a substance abuse problem.

For the most part, treatment for physician substance abuse follows the traditional drug treatment approach, though some states in the U. S. sponsor special programs designed specifically for physician substance abuse problems. Ultimately, finding help for physician substance abuse is easy. It’s making that first step that’s hard.

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Physician Substance Abuse

Physician Substance Abuse

Physicians benefit from treatment programs just as other people do. There are many types of programs to choose from.

Unlike the business owner, corporate executive or office worker, physician substance abuse infringes upon a person’s very livelihood in terms of violating the codes of the medical profession. These conditions raise the stakes considerably, as admitting to a substance abuse problem may well mark the end of a person’s career.

This condition makes it especially difficult for someone engaged in physician substance abuse to acknowledge the problem, let alone come clean and seek help. This delay in getting needed treatment help not only places the physician at ever-increasing risk, but also his or her patients and coworkers. Meanwhile, coworkers and loved ones may well maintain the silence to protect the business and the family from economic ruin.

Through it all, one thing remains unchanged: substance abuse affects everyone in the same way, taking over a person’s reason and will then slowly destroying his or her life in the process. Under these conditions, finding help for physician substance abuse becomes all the more urgent as more than one life hangs in the balance.

Traditional Treatment Program Options for Physician Substance Abuse

While most every physician understands how addiction works, applying this knowledge within one’s own life doesn’t come second nature. Once addiction sets in, denial mechanisms work the same way for physicians as for laypeople.

Traditional treatment program options address both the physical and psychological aftereffects of addiction. Detox treatment marks the first step in the recovery process. From there, finding help for physician substance abuse becomes a matter of accessing local or nonlocal treatment facilities and finding the program that best meets a person’s treatment needs.

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Outpatient vs. Residential Treatment Programs

In most cases, choosing between outpatient and residential treatment has more to do with the severity of a person’s substance abuse problem than anything else. In the case of physician substance abuse, doctors have easy access to drugs, which further complicates the matter.

As outpatient programs allow for considerable freedom, a physician can continue working while receiving treatment if he or she so chooses, but then there’s the matter of the prescription pad which remains accessible regardless of whether a person chooses to keep working.

All things considered, residential treatment programs offer the best approach for treating physician substance abuse at the outset as the freedoms afforded by outpatient programs leave a person wide open to relapse and continued drug use.

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47,300* People Addicted
23,100* Getting Help
8,209* Deaths
*Statistic from 2015

Initial Evaluation

Considering the wealth of knowledge physicians have on the workings of the brain and body, a treatment program that has experience working with physician substance abuse would be best suited to conduct the initial evaluation and ongoing treatment. Not surprisingly, physicians possess a high intellect capable of complex rationalizations, which only works to strengthen their resistance and denial of the problem. The treating facility should also be well versed in obtaining collateral information from coworkers, family and friends.


Counseling treatment entails helping addicts work through the underlying issues that drive drug-using behaviors. The counseling process also helps addicts identify key stressors and cues that trigger the urge to use and how to avoid them.

While therapists and drug counselors usually work well in this capacity, physician substance abuse counseling requires a highly trained clinician, such as a psychiatrist; someone capable of gaining the addict’s trust and respect.

Group Therapy

The group therapy process provides a setting where physicians can recognize and confront their own issues through peer interactions with like-minded individuals, preferably other doctors. As the health care workplace presents its own unique sets of stressors where physician substance abuse is concerned, addicts can learn new ways of dealing with the workplace, as well as with other areas of their lives.

Support Groups

The 12 Step support group model offers a long-term, maintenance treatment approach to managing addiction in a person’s day-to-day life. These groups act as a support system that meets multiple times a week.

The 12 Step approach places a heavy emphasis on accountability for one’s actions and spiritual development as a person works through the recovery process. While it may be difficult to find a group that specifically addresses physician substance abuse, the issues remain the same regardless of the make-up of the group.

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Physician Health Programs

Physician health programs work alongside state licensing boards, hospitals and malpractice insurers to address and treat cases of physician substance abuse, according to the University of Florida. The majority of doctors enrolled do so under formal mandate as a condition of keeping their licenses to practice medicine. To date, only four states offer physician health programs: Georgia, Nebraska, California and Wisconsin.

Physician Health Program Conditions

Anyone who suspects physician substance abuse can contact a physician health program. Doctors can also self-report and obtain help on their own. According to Harvard Health Publications, these programs typically run for 90 days with costs ranging around $40,000. During this time, physician substance abuse treatment entails:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Residential treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Workplace monitoring


The sense of isolation that comes with physician substance abuse can quickly destroy a person’s life as well as his or her livelihood. Considering what all hangs in the balance, a person should get needed treatment help at the first sign of a drug problem. As a certain degree of discretion may be in order, out-of-state treatment programs may be preferable when finding help for physician substance abuse. Call 800-934-1582(Who Answers?) toll free for help finding treatment.

the Take-Away

There are treatment programs that can help physicians overcome substance abuse problems and get back on track with their lives. There are luxury programs, standard programs, free programs and more.