Is There a Stigma Among Medical Professionals Against Substance-Abusing Patients?

Is There a Stigma Among Medical Professionals Against Substance-Abusing Patients?

doctorNew research out of Tilburg University in the Netherlands and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that, in general, healthcare providers have a negative attitude towards patients with addiction problems. This is unfortunate because these professionals often play a vital role in the recognition of a patient’s drug and alcohol problem and serve as a first step in getting access to quality treatment. However, in order to make an impact, a doctor or nurse often needs to make at least a small personal connection with a patient in order to be heard. This is a difficult task to accomplish for a healthcare provider who is frustrated, annoyed, or sitting in judgment of their patient.

Study Finds Healthcare Workers Have Negative Attitudes Toward Addicted Patients

The Netherland researchers wanted to assess the attitudes of healthcare professionals in western countries toward their patients under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The team did a review of literature between 2000 and 2011. After getting 1,562 hits on PubMed, PsycINFO and Embase, the scientists narrowed down studies matching their criteria until they were left with 28 citations that were included in their final analysis.

The research team found a number of ways in which healthcare professionals view patients with a drug or alcohol problem in a negative light. However, the ill feelings usually arose from the professionals’ inability to effectively do their job because of the results of a patient’s drug abuse. In other words, the healthcare workers’ feelings were usually out of frustration, rather than out of a pure sense of judgment. Here are the factors with substance abuse cases that healthcare professionals felt impeded their ability to do their job:

  • Manipulation
  • Violence
  • Lack of motivation

Healthcare Workers Are in Need of More Education and Training Surrounding Substance Abuse Issues

Part of the problem, according to the research, is that healthcare professionals do not receive enough substance abuse training and support to best understand and serve this patient population. As a result, the dynamic between provider and patient breaks down. The negative attitude on the part of the healthcare worker results in the following obstacles to positive treatment outcomes:

  • Reduces patients’ feelings of empowerment
  • Diminishes the amount of personal engagement resulting in a solely task-oriented approach towards patients
  • Decreases the professionals’ ability to empathize with the patient

What do you think needs to be done to help healthcare professionals better understand and deal with patients who are living with a substance abuse issue? Share your ideas below.