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Substance Abuse & Addiction Among Health Care Professionals

New York Health Care Professionals and Substance Abuse Disorders

Despite societal perceptions of healthcare professionals and preconceived ideologies, these professionals are just as susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse as in other professions. Society holds healthcare workers to a higher standard than the rest and holds them in high regard for their contribution to the community.

  • Healthcare professionals are here to take care of us.
  • Healthcare professionals know what to do and what not to do to be healthy.
  • Healthcare professionals prevent us from hurting ourselves and sometimes others.

We often assume that healthcare professionals will do everything possible to protect their health and well-being, but that is not always the case.

Unfortunately, many contributing factors can be a catalyst for substance misuse among healthcare professionals. Doctors and nurses struggle with alcohol or drugs at a rate of 10-14%, with 20% of nurses struggling with addiction.

Contributing Factors to Alcohol and Drug Dependence in the Health Care Profession

There are a variety of stress factors and contributing issues in addiction and substance abuse for any profession, but for those in the medical field, there are some specific to their profession. Stress, accessibility to drugs, and physical exhaustion are three significant factors that contribute to substance use among healthcare professionals.


Stress levels are at a consistent high for those in the health care field, with their patient lives in their hands at all times. These professionals are required to remain calm, focused, and alert for long periods, setting aside their own needs for food, water, rest, and decompression. There is constant pressure to avoid even the smallest mistakes because the lives of their patients hang in the balance.

These stressful circumstances will inevitably take a toll on the mental, emotional, and physical health of healthcare professionals if not managed effectively and consistently. Nurses, doctors, and front-line workers often battle depression, PTSD, and burnout syndrome which can lead to alcohol and drug reliance to escape.

Drug Accessibility

For doctors and nurses, easy access and frequent exposure to certain meds can lead to drug misuse and possible addiction. Knowing how drugs work, their potential side effects, or effects in combination with other drugs, and their intended function may make healthcare professionals inclined to use them for their own pain, depression, or stress relief.

The most commonly abused prescription medications include stimulants, opioids, and benzodiazepines. Stimulant drugs are used to help stay alert, awake, or focused, opioids to treat pain or numb feelings, and benzodiazepines to counter the effects of depression, PTSD, and other mental stresses.

Physical Demand

Many healthcare careers are extremely physically taxing, causing severe physical exhaustion on top of mental and emotional stress. Long hours, unpredictable calls to work, schedule changes, and a lack of routine can work against every natural rhythm in the body. Healthcare professionals often do not have time between shifts to decompress, unwind, and sleep enough to feel restored. Sleep deprivation may lead to depression or emotional dysregulation, causing professionals to rely on stimulants and depressants to stay awake or fall asleep.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse

When a coworker, employee, or managing health care professional is losing grasp on their substance use, their work suffers. Signs of substance addiction or abuse at work may include:

  • Falling asleep on the job or in the car, on shift or between shifts
  • Taking more bathroom breaks than normal
  • Unexplained absences
  • Taking night shifts to avoid supervision
  • Reluctance to take overtime
  • Increased errors in documentation and paperwork
  • Smelling of breath mints, mouthwash, or alcohol
  • Relationship, familial, and financial problems

Sometimes, these behaviors are exhibited at work and home, making it undeniable that something is amiss, and that social or recreational substance use has gone too far.

If a loved one, friend, or coworker is exhibiting signs of alcohol or drug dependence and addiction at work and home, it is time to seek help. There are options for discrete, private, and safe help for these problems, without risk to career or practice. Seeking help for addiction or alcoholism from Fifth Avenue Psychiatry is completely confidential, compassionate, and without stigma. The relationships we establish with our patients are privileged and usually not reportable to state disciplinary boards.

Find professional, discrete help at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry with our New York psychiatrists and addiction specialists. We are here to help you find a balance between work, home, and personal life while recovering.

Featured in New York Magazine’s Best Doctors issue, Dr. Glazer has been recognized as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor since 2015.

Samuel Glazer, MD

Samuel Glazer, MD

Samuel Glazer, MD, a psychiatrist nationally known for his work with addicted executives and professionals, began his private practice in 1998. Dr Glazer has been recognized as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor since 2015, and was recently featured in New York Magazine’s Best Doctors issue. He is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and Addiction Psychiatrist, and is a Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

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