Doctors Abuse Substances Too

Doctor taking drugs

When we think of substance abuse, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, we too often allow ourselves to hold the concept that this is only a habit that befalls the misfortunate, the economically downtrodden, the mentally unhappy, the poor, and the impoverished. While substance abuse and addiction may have once been a problem primarily for the lower-class, it is certainly no longer that way. Here we’d like to shine a light on the fact that, even the best educated, the most affluent, and the kindest of individuals often fall prey to a drug habit. We’d like to shine a light on the fact that our medical doctors often fall prey to drug abuse.

By far, when medical doctors do fall prey to a substance abuse habit, it is almost always with prescription drugs, primarily with prescription painkillers. One study suggests that, not only do doctors abuse prescription drugs at rates higher than other working-class professionals but that doctors abuse prescription drugs because of extreme stress and emotional pain tied to their profession.

Doctors Abuse Drugs at Rates Higher than Average Americans Do

According to a research project out of the University of Florida, doctor abuse drugs at a rate of about fifteen percent of the population of doctors. The average substance abuse rate for Americans twelve and older is currently at about eleven percent, indicating that doctors do self-medicate on substances or have addiction problems at rates higher than the average populace.

“Doctors get more into [narcotics] and sedatives. The drugs they're addicted to are more powerful, and they tend to come to treatment later. There are all of these layers that are hard to get through.”

According to Dr. J. Randle Adair, a substance abuse treatment counselor:

“Doctors get more into [narcotics] and sedatives. The drugs they're addicted to are more powerful, and they tend to come to treatment later. There are all of these layers that are hard to get through.”

Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, a doctor at Harvard Medical School, also commented on substance abuse amongst doctors:

“Are doctors different? No. Most of my patients who aren't doctors use these drugs for the same reasons. The huge difference is that doctors have unique access to prescription drugs.”

Lisa Merlo, the lead researcher on the new study and an assistant professor at the University of Florida, added her two cents worth along with the top researchers in this project:

“There's really been (until now) little research on drug addiction among healthcare professionals. The primary message is that we need to do a better job educating doctors about the dangers of self-medicating and self-prescribing. Medical students get minimal training in addiction, which is pretty ridiculous.”

We can see here from three medical experts who all contributed to the University of Florida study that, yes, substance abuse amongst doctors is very real, and we need to be aware of it.

Helping Doctors in Their Time of Need

Doctor helps upset friend-doctor.

Doctors often feel the need to help others so much that they rarely look to their own selves to ensure they are staying healthy. And this is a mistake. Doctors often forget the age-old adage of, “If you yourself are not healthy, how can you guarantee the health of your patients?”

And there is some truth in that statement. Unfortunately, fifteen percent of doctors forget this adage by allowing themselves to fall into hardship with an addiction crisis. It might start innocently enough, by say prescribing an opioid painkiller for themselves for a broken leg or a fractured rib, but it could expand outwards from that, developing into a full, chemical and psychological habit on those pills.

For the rest of us, the above study reminds us that no one is safe from addiction, no matter who they are, no matter their stature, etc. None of these factors guarantee safety from substance abuse. We need to approach those affected by addiction, no matter who they are, with kindness and compassion and a willingness to help them.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.