Identifying and Embracing the Need for Residential Opioid Treatment as an Addicted Doctor

Faced with the trauma that they see every day and the pressure to care for the people suffering from it, many doctors fall into opioid addiction to curb their emotional and physical pain. Despite their dire need for treatment, stigmatization forces them to suffer in the shadows, hiding their dependency in the face of fear. By understanding the importance of accepting addiction without shame, as well as the most effective ways to build a support network and find the right treatment, doctors can give themselves permission to be cared for, opening up the process of recovery.

Society sees you as a person to lean on, to quell fears and give others hope when they’re sick and at their worst, but rarely is it acknowledged that sometimes, doctors need people to lean on as well. Just like the rest of us, doctors have fears and insecurities—you get sick and feel the pressures and burdens of everyday life knocking at their door. And, as some people do, you may also find yourself turning to drugs to to find release from the stress that comes with being a constant caretaker, afraid to seek help when you realize that you need someone to reach out to.

But unlike the general population, doctors are more likely to use opioids, and it’s highly unlikely that you’re using them for recreational value—for you, they are an escape, a way to ease the sometimes overwhelming stress that is part and parcel of your profession. And, between free samples from drug companies, unused prescriptions that patients bring back, and colleagues that freely write each other prescriptions, you have incredibly easy access to all sorts of drugs.

There’s this idea that doctors are infallible—that you couldn’t possibly need help, because you’re the one responsible for providing it. But that idea isn’t just false—it’s harmful, because it doesn’t give you any room to be human.

By learning to relinquish control, you’ll begin to understand the importance of placing your health in the hands of others. Through the treatment process, you will have access to a number of tools and paths to recovery and be able to lean on the network of support created by those closest to you.

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Accepting Addiction Without Shame

Spending the majority of your days helping other people and being the one to fix other people’s problems can make it difficult for you to realize that, for once, you might need someone to help you.

“As a physician, I had such a hard time relinquishing control of my own care,” said Dr. Meyer, who was addicted to pain medication. “I’d always been able to do things on my own. I studied hard, I worked hard, and I succeeded. But I finally had to learn that I couldn’t will myself into recovery.”

The shame that accompanies your addiction may leave you wondering: how can I help others, if I can’t even help myself? And yet, it’s always so much easier to give good, sound advice than to take it yourself—as the saying goes, “do what I say, not what I do.” The fact that addiction is so stigmatized, often attributed to a lack of willpower, compounds your difficulties further. Given your responsibility to care for others, you likely harbor legitimate fears about being seen as weak or inadequate, losing your status in the workplace, or—worse—losing your job.

Regardless of the shame that you’re feeling, at the end of the day it’s important that you realize it’s OK to seek or accept help from others and reach out to people that will accept and understand the struggles you’re facing. “I had been so afraid and so ashamed for so long that at that point, it was almost a relief to be confronted,” Dr. Meyer said of his intervention, which led to him to enroll in a state physician health program.

Building Support and Finding the Right Treatment

When it comes down to getting treatment, doctors have two main options: physician health programs, or confidential care. Physician health programs are state-regulated treatment options that require doctors to be open about their addiction in the workplace and undergo random urine testing, workplace surveillance, and behavioral assessments. Alternatively, confidential care is a blanket term for receiving treatment outside of your place of work without having to divulge your addiction to any of your colleagues or supervisors. This level of privacy means that it is the first instinct of many doctors—with such stigma surrounding addiction, especially in the position that doctors are in, confidential treatment is the most effective option for some. The problem with many confidential care options is that opening up about your addiction with those closest to you is more difficult. Of course, your therapist and psychiatrist will be able to help you, but without open lines of communication with your loved ones, you put a limit on the number of people in your support network that can help you when you need it the most.

But confidential care doesn’t have to mean getting treatment without the help of loved ones—with the right residential treatment program, you can take time off work and receive treatment in a setting that not only connects you with compassionate therapists and psychiatrists that can help you overcome your addiction, it values the importance of keeping your close family and loved ones involved in the process. It’s extremely important for you to lean on those closest to you during this time—placing your health in another person’s hands can be as difficult as the initial step of admitting a need for help, so receiving help through a period where your comfort level will be at its lowest is crucial to help you make it to the end of the line.

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Giving Yourself Permission to Be Cared For

In the addiction recovery community, we talk a lot about how addiction is a coping skill—even for doctors. In some ways, doctors are like therapists: they see and hear a lot of trauma, and tend to care deeply for their patients, so an outlet to help them cope with that is understandable. But the key is having healthy coping skills, and if you don’t have them built into your life already, you’ll need to do so manually, and a residential treatment program is the ideal place to do it.

Accepting and receiving help, even if that means you have to go on leave or transition out of your job for a little while, is an investment into yourself and your recovery. It’s a way of healing that, at the end of the day, will allow you to continue helping others to heal in turn. By learning to let go of your guilt, you can lift the burden that you’ve been carrying and allow yourself to be helped, clearing the path to a steady recovery.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for doctors addicted to opioids at both the inpatient and outpatient level. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one accept and overcome addiction while still helping others overcome problems of their own.