nurse substance abuse

Did you know that healthcare professionals are just as likely as the general population to struggle with addiction? In fact, their access to addictive substances may increase their vulnerability.

Here are six potential causes of addiction among healthcare professionals.

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1. Healthcare professionals are more likely to struggle with addiction because of their access to drugs.

Approximately 10% to 12% of physicians will develop an addiction of some kind during their careers, which is comparable to or greater than the general population (Berge, Seppala, & Schipper, 2009).

Healthcare professionals in different disciplines tend to abuse different types of substances (Berge et. al., 2009).

  • Anesthesiologists, for example, become addicted to very strong intravenous opioids such as fentanyl and sufentanil in large numbers (Berge et. Al., 2009).
  • Also, because of their easy access to drugs, pharmacists frequently self-medicate and have the opportunity to track their drug use, which is a practice used to perpetuate the myth that knowledge of pharmacology and how drugs affect behavior, and the brain prevents medical and healthcare professionals from developing and becoming addicted (Kenna & Lewis, 2008)

2. They often feel immense pressure to provide top-notch care for their patients.

Even though the seemingly elevated social status of healthcare professionals appears to bring certain types of rewards (tangible and intangible), it is often quite isolating when they come across a disease like addiction, which has a very powerful social stigma (Berge et. al., 2009). Because they may believe that others do not understand what they are going through, they may avoid reaching out to family or friends.

Healthcare professionals are reminded by the pressure to provide superior care that they must consistently perform at the highest level because the well-being of patients and their license(s) to practice in their discipline of choice are at stake. They don’t want to jeopardize their patients’ health, and this immense pressure can, predictably, lead these professionals (and anyone else in a similar situation) to turn to addictive substances as a coping mechanism.

3. They can be surrounded by people who enable their addictive behaviors.

Due to their social status, healthcare professionals (particularly physicians and similar medical professionals) are frequently surrounded by individuals who supposedly have less knowledge about drugs and addiction than they do.

A portion of the extensive training that healthcare professionals are required to complete for their chosen field/discipline includes education on drugs and their effects on the brain, body, and behavior.

This also includes how a person can develop a dependency on various substances. Due to their extensive training on the body and brain, many professionals are incapable of imagining that others in the field could be abusing or developing a dependence on a substance.

4. The work itself can be stressful and emotionally draining.

The work of healthcare professionals of any discipline (physician, nurse, mental health professional, etc.) is extremely mentally and emotionally taxing, as well as traditionally very demanding. Due to the time-consuming nature of their professions, many healthcare professionals have little time for anything other than their work.

This leaves them with little time for outside interests, limiting their ability to decompress and release any day-to-week stress.

Leaving them with few options other than to turn to their preferred addictive substance to manage their stress.

5. Addicts are often good at hiding their addiction from others.

Not only healthcare professionals, but addicts in general are adept at hiding their addiction.

Healthcare professionals who treat addiction are aware of the signs and symptoms to look for in addicts, and when they themselves are addicts, they may be able to conceal these signs and symptoms from others. They do not wish for others to discover that they are addicts. They experience the social stigma of addiction at a heightened level because they treat addicts. They may feel hypocritical because they are advising their patients on how to overcome their addiction, but they are not doing the same work themselves.

6. There is a lack of resources available for healthcare professionals struggling with addiction.

We frequently believe that healthcare professionals can take care of themselves and manage their addictions without assistance.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • They are familiar with the standard procedure for treating addiction, which can make it easier for them to know what to look for when seeking treatment; however, they are frequently left without resources to treat their addictions.
  • Fearing that they will be judged by the healthcare professionals who are treating them as another professional seeking assistance may discourage them from seeking assistance. Never is this the case when someone is receiving addiction treatment. Anyone, for any reason, can become an addict, and it is a significant step to admit you need help and enter treatment.

At PCI, we treat anyone in need of addiction treatment, and we have a treatment program designed specifically to assist healthcare professionals in managing their addictions. Please give us a call at (818) 629-2176 to get started on your path to recovery.




Berge, K. H., Seppala, M. D., & Schipper, A. M. (2009, July). Chemical Dependency and the physician. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from

Kenna, G. A., & Lewis, D. C. (2008, January 29). Risk factors for alcohol and other drug use by healthcare professionals – substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy. BioMed Central. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from