Being a nurse was everything to me. When my addiction to Adderall and alcohol put my career at risk, I knew I needed help. Luckily, I sought treatment at an addiction treatment program tailored to medical professionals such as myself. There are unique challenges to recovery as a healthcare professional, ones that require specialized attention.
If you are a healthcare professional seeking treatment for substance use disorder, here are four reasons to find a program for medical professionals.
1. Your license to practice medicine is at risk.
As a healthcare professional, your state’s Licensing Board has total control over your ability to practice medicine. When I first entered treatment, I wasn’t ready to accept that I had a problem. The Licensing Board, however, saw things differently. That threat of my losing my license was enough to make me pause, look at what was going on, and realize that there was a problem.
During treatment, it was always in the back of my mind that if I said, “Forget it, I’m leaving,” then I would ultimately be deciding to throw away my career, something I wasn’t willing to do. Like a lot of medical professionals, my sense of identity was very much tied to my career. I was a nurse. I didn’t want to be anything else, and I ultimately decided I was willing to do whatever I needed to uphold that role.
I knew the Nursing Board and the Medical Board really had the public’s best interest in mind – not necessarily mine. The Boards want me to do well, but they worry more about my ability to practice medicine safely.
2. You are among peers, who understand where you’ve been.
My Adderall addiction came to light when I was caught forging prescriptions. I was ashamed of what I had done, and I felt alone in my shame -- the only person to ever have done something so horrible.
It made a tremendous difference for me to be in a program with my fellow medical professionals, where people talked about the horrible things they had done in active addiction. When you’re in a group session with your peers, sharing your most shameful secrets such as, “I forged prescriptions,” and there’s a physician next to you saying, “I did the same thing,” suddenly, it loses it power over you. You realize that addiction is a disease.
It was a healing experience for me to realize I wasn’t alone and that people understood. It gave me hope that I could get through this, I could still be a nurse someday. I felt like I could recover, rather than just fight and blame everybody else.
3. The program can advocate for you before the licensing board.
A well-respected program like Caron works closely with the monitoring agencies in my state, and they submitted regular reports on my behalf to the Board of Nursing. The head of the program, Dr. Greg Gable, previously ran the professional health program in Pennsylvania, so he knew what he was doing and what the monitoring agencies expected. He could advocate for me with the agencies, but he could also hold me accountable. He would call me on my behaviors, telling me what I needed to address to retain my license.
4. Access to controlled substances is part of the job.
Imagine being an alcoholic who must work as a bartender. Those of us in the healthcare profession are in a similar situation. There’s such easy access to controlled substances, making it both easy to start and difficult to stop. It’s much more prevalent than many people would expect. There’s a lot of stress in the healthcare field, and the easy access to medications is a constant temptation. I think people turn to it as a way of coping without fully understanding the consequences.
But to blame addiction on easy access isn’t really fair. We are all responsible for our own actions. Still, when you are in recovery and working around controlled substances, you need to have a strategy for managing that potential relapse trigger. Ongoing monitoring can help, as can connecting with other healthcare professionals who are in recovery. I attend a 12-step program for health professionals. The group isn’t publicized – unless you have a connection, through a monitoring program in my case, you won’t know about it. Still, to show you how widespread the problem is in healthcare, the number of people attending my meetings has grown 70 percent since I started going.
For all these reasons, I recommend healthcare professionals dealing with substance abuse find a treatment program that specializes in the needs of the medical community. Next to deciding to become a nurse, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Many people won’t admit to themselves that they have a problem. They are caught up in the role of being a doctor, nurse, or successful professional. I know if you had asked me if I had a problem with Adderall, I would have lied. I didn’t want anyone to catch me. My addiction almost destroyed me, and still I wouldn’t admit that I had a problem. That’s why I now go and speak to healthcare professional groups, like nursing students and physician assistants. My story resonates with them, because they feel the pressure to perform and many are taking Adderall or other substances to manage the stress. There is a better way. Seek help.