Medical Professionals and Addiction

Are Doctors More Likely to Struggle with Addiction?

Learn the many contributing factors to addiction in medical professionals and their avoidance of seeking professional help.


Medical Professionals and Addiction

Are Doctors More Likely to Struggle with Addiction?

Learn the many contributing factors to addiction in medical professionals and their avoidance of seeking professional help.

The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a comprehensive resource. At Ampelis Recovery, our programs are customized and tailored to the individual’s needs. Specific details below that cover treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols used for our clients.

If you would like to learn more about Ampelis Recovery and our customized programs for professional men, please do not hesitate to reach out.


Rates of Substance Use in Medical Professionals

General Rates

Being a medical doctor, even in smaller practices, is a stressful career. Medical professionals deal daily with trauma, unbalanced work-life ratio, and legal and ethical issues. The access doctors have to drugs alongside the stress caused by this career path can lead doctors to substance abuse.1

  • Approximately 10-12% of doctors develop substance use problems.
  • Over 35% of doctors abusing substances used opioids.
  • Approximately 13% of doctors reported intravenous drug use.

Higher Levels of Opioid Abuse

Studies show that doctors abuse opioids and other drugs more than the general public. Medical professionals prefer opioids as they are easy to access through their career-based connections. This means that, without their job, these individuals would have limited access to their drugs of choice. The addiction creates a desire to keep their jobs to maintain drug access, financial stability, and professional reputation.1

Higher Rates of Relapse

Substance use is rooted in stress, psychological trauma, genetic disposition, and mental illness. All types of doctors also have the added factor of easy drug access. Relapses are especially dangerous for healthcare professionals due to the difficulty of spotting an impaired doctor. However, studies on physicians with a history of substance abuse found that, after receiving treatment, between 74-90% remained abstinent. High rates of abstinence amongst healthcare professionals could be prompted by a desire to retain a medical license and continue practicing in the field.1

Identifying an Impaired Doctor

Although more difficult to detect, there are commonalities between substance abusing doctors. The general methods to spot addictions include a change in personality or financial instability. However, there are also career-specific identifiers:

  • Taking night shifts: Night shifts offer the opportunity to access drugs without navigating a crowded or fully staffed hospital. Night shifts can also provide less responsibility, making it easier to hide signs of self-medication.
  • Volunteering to administer narcotics to patients: Administering narcotics allows medical professionals an easy excuse to handle controlled substances. Medical professionals could withhold administering all of the medicine and instead pocket the remaining amount. This increased access only serves to worsen addiction.
  • Falling asleep at work: Substance use leads to bouts of insomnia, irregular sleep patterns, and disassociation. This means that substance-abusing doctors may fall asleep at work or remain in a mental fog.
  • Changing jobs frequently: Healthcare professionals with self-medication issues change jobs often to cover their tracks. This also gives them a chance to reset their professional image.
  • Excessive paperwork errors: Substance abuse is detrimental to mental performance. This leads to paperwork errors, memory issues, and general cognitive decline.

Learn More About Healing the Brain

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Why Medical Professionals Develop Addictions

Several factors lead healthcare professionals to addiction, the most relevant including:

Stress of work: All types of doctors deal with stressful situations, including injuries, trauma, and more throughout their medical professions. These taxing experiences lead to high stress levels.

Work hours: Doctors have a fast-paced job. They often work long hours and have a reduced social life because of it.

Vital nature of work: Medical professions are an essential career field. Some doctors may feel as though they would be letting patients down if they were to take time off—the importance of their workplaces a burden on them.

Burnout: The long hours, high stress, and significant responsibility can lead to doctor burnout. Much like regular burnout, doctor burnout can cause severe depression, anxiety, and underlying illnesses.2

Poor work-life balance: Poor work-life balance is a habit that begins in medical school. Studies show that medical students use illicit substances to cope with the stress of obtaining their degrees. These habits carry forward once they enter the workforce.3

Accessibility to drugs and self-medication: The most significant contributing factor to substance abuse in the medical field is drug access. Medical professionals also have access to medical-grade drugs, which can cause intense highs and minimal short-term side effects.1

Types of Doctors That Have Substance Use Disorders

Studies show that various medical specializations tend to have drugs of choice, as outlined below.

Anesthesiology: Anesthesiologists tend to abuse opioids at a higher rate than their peers. Anesthesiology deals with pain relief, meaning that anesthesiologists have a vast understanding of opioids and easy access to them.

Emergency Medicine: ER doctors show high rates of alcohol abuse. ER doctors are exposed to complex physical and emotional trauma daily, and they have longer hours than many of their peers.

Psychiatry: Psychiatrists abuse psychotropic drugs and alcohol at higher rates than their peers.

These three specialties are more likely to have substance use issues.1

Why Medical Professionals Avoid Treatment

Medical professionals often avoid treatment, which can be caused by:

Legal consequences: If a doctor’s drug use is proven or a substantial reason is found to suspect drug use, there are hefty legal consequences. Revoked medical licenses or malpractices are two of the most common legal consequences for extreme circumstances.

Professional consequences: Doctors can lose their career and miss out on promotions should their substance use come to light.

Financial consequences: Recovery takes time, and time costs money. Additionally, there are potentially hefty malpractice suit payouts, lost career wages, and loss of long-term clients.

Social consequences: Doctors, like anyone suffering from substance use disorder, may be looked down on by friends, family, and, in this case, patients. This can ruin their personal and professional reputation.

Personality Traits

Those drawn to the medical field may display certain traits, and those same traits can work against their recovery.


  • Independence: A person that prides themselves on being independent is less likely to seek treatment when needed.
  • Perseverance: A perseverant person is unlikely to admit failure, or in this case, addiction.
  • Self-Reliance: A self-reliant person may find it difficult to cede control to a treatment program.

Addiction Treatment for Medical Professionals

Healthcare professionals have options for recovery. There are inpatient treatment facilities that offer privacy and allow doctors to keep in contact with their practice. There are outpatient options such as addiction counseling and therapy. Medical professionals who receive treatment can still retain their medical licenses as long as they have not committed a crime or caused severe injury to a patient. Learning more about substance abuse in the medical field and how to treat it allows healthcare professionals to gain control of their life again.