Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Why Doctors Become Hooked

Shelly Reese


May 06, 2015

In This Article

The Challenge of Coming to Grips

Although doctors recognize their ethical duty to report an impaired colleague, many say meeting that obligation can be a gut-wrenching and stressful experience. Some of the comments from the Medscape ethics survey included:

  • "It was very emotionally difficult, and took quite some time before I could do it."

  • "It has been tough when I have had to do it, but I've never had any regrets in doing so."

  • "Despite the threat of a lawsuit, I would do it again. Years later, that impaired physician thanked us for the wake-up call."

  • "After I have spoken to them and warned them to get help...if they would not seek treatment or change, I would turn them in."

  • "I've reported a friend—not a friend anymore, but I had to. They would not seek help when I spoke to them personally, and the care of patients was in serious jeopardy."

Although not everyone gets a "thank you," doctors need to understand that in reporting impaired colleagues they're not only protecting patients, they're protecting the doctors themselves. Most states have physician health programs that enable doctors to seek confidential treatment and monitoring without disclosing their problem to a medical board. Physicians who participate in these programs have a higher recovery rate than the general population.

As one psychiatrist noted in the Medscape survey, reporting a colleague isn't easy, but losing one is far worse.

"Too many of my compatriots have succumbed to drug use," he wrote. "Part of the problem was peers overlooking obvious impairment. Denial simply delays the problem, and it invariably grows over time without intervention."


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