Most people who have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse are reluctant to have it known to others, which makes it difficult to seek effective treatment. For doctors, this reluctance is reinforced by the generally held belief that a doctor should not show such weaknesses. In addition, many doctors fear the affect it might have on their career if it becomes known that they have this problem.
Yet, because of the significant responsibilities that doctors carry for the health and safety of others, in is of paramount importance that they reach out for help when they need it. Fortunately, there are several ways they might do this.
There are many organizations, from Alcoholics Anonymous to Narcotics Anonymous, that allow a person to share his problem with others without it becoming publically known that he is addicted. These groups generally have programs, such as the twelve step program, designed to help individuals face their problem and deal with it. Usually, the groups rely on a kind of buddy system in which those who are having problems with cravings can call another member for support.
There are a number of private Drug Treatment programs. Some are run by the county mental health agencies and are more likely to report a doctor who has a problem. Private programs tend to provide more discreet service. It is best to choose a program that has a proven track record. Unfortunately, for many doctors with a substance abuse problem, neither group treatment nor private outpatient counseling is always enough.
In several states there are government programs that allow a doctor to report that he has a problem with substance abuse and still continue to practice even as he receives treatment. The doctor is supposed to be carefully monitored during this process, but a recent study of such a program in California has demonstrated that it has been fairly ineffective.
For many doctors who have problems with drugs and alcohol, the constant pressures they are under and the demanding hours make it difficult break their habit using the previously mentioned methods. In these instances, it is often best for the doctor to take a leave of absence from the hospital or center where he works and check himself into a full time treatment center. Choosing this course does not necessarily mean that the doctor must inform anyone he works with about his problem.
Since the first rule of medicine is to do no harm, it is incumbent on doctors to ensure that they are in a fit condition to treat their patients. Doctors with substance abuse issues place not only their own lives, but also the lives of many others at risk. Thus, it is best for any doctor with this problem to protect his patients and his career by availing himself of the options he has for treatment.