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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

10-08-13 | By

Self-Medication Among Doctors

Self-Medication Among Doctors

In a study that was published this month, doctors that abuse prescription drugs often do so for self-medication purposes.  The study, reported in this month’s edition of the Journal of Addiction Medicine, reported the reasons cited by doctors for self-medicating on prescription drugs was due to physical pain, emotional pain or stress relief.  The basis of this study was focus groups that were comprised of physicians that were in treatment for substance abuse.  This study provided unique insight into why doctors self-medicate and abuse prescription drugs.

self medicating

Doctors Discuss Why They Self-Medicate and Abuse Prescription Medication

Researchers held anonymous discussion groups with fifty-five physicians who were in treatment for substance abuse, and the researchers discussed reasons for prescription drug abuse in that focus group.  The doctors were being monitored for substance abuse as a part of their state’s physician health program.  Of those in that focus group, sixty-nine percent had abused prescription drugs along with alcohol and other illicit drugs.

From these discussion groups, researchers noted five themes were prevalent, three related to self-medication via prescription drugs. The doctors in the focus group reported that self-medication helped with the following areas

  1. Physical pain—many of the physicians initially developed their drug habit while using medications prescribed for chronic pain after trauma or surgery.
  2. Emotional pain and Psychiatric symptoms—some of the doctors in the discussion groups pointed out that self-medication by prescription drugs helped them deal with chronic anxiety or depression issues.
  3. Work and Life Stress—self-medication was effective in relieving stress related to their personal or professional lives.

How Findings Can Help in the Prevention of Drug Abuse Among Doctors

Like other substance abusers, the physicians in this study noted they also had used drugs recreationally and others stated they used drugs in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms.  The rate of drug use by doctors is similar to that of the general population. Researchers have noted that because of access, physicians are more likely to abuse prescription drugs.  Substance abuse and self-medication is the most common cause of impairment among doctors and if substance abuse is suspected, their colleagues are required to report or refer them to the appropriate channels.

These findings highlight the phenomenon of self-medicating among doctors, although recreational use must also be factored into the broader scope.  Researchers have noted that the study provides additional evidence that doctors who self-medicate and abuse drugs—especially prescription drugs—may represent a special population within the substance abuse demographic.  Because of this “special” status, different methods of intervention and prevention may be more effective.

Possible areas of prevention include forms of drug education starting at the commencement of medical training with required continuing education throughout their careers.  The educational element should include strong messages that doctors must seek qualified medical care for physical and emotional pain, as well as other areas in which self-medication is a detriment to both their personal and professional lives.


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