Who better to reveal why physicians abuse and misuse prescription drugs than the doctors themselves? According to the results of a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 55 doctors in recovery from prescription drug abuse had very clear and specific reasons why they turned to using medication this way.
#1 Self-Medicating to Deal with Physical Pain
Not surprisingly, the number one reason physicians said they took prescription drugs was as a result of pain. The typical scenario is that they developed the habit following surgery or trauma and stuck with the prescription drugs as an effective way to deal with the pain.
#2 Coping with Emotional Pain
Many of these doctors in treatment said that using prescription drugs helped find an effective treatment for “longstanding problems with anxiety or depression.” Thus, coping with emotional pain and psychiatric symptoms was alleviated by misusing prescription drugs.
#3 Handling Work and Life Stress
Escalating stress at home and at work was cited as the third major reason physicians misused prescription drugs. Personal and private life stress became too overwhelming, and prescription drugs offered an easy way out.
#4 Using to “Get High”
Recreational drug use was another reason doctors mentioned for their drug use, similar to the drug-seeking behavior of other substance abusers.
#5 Treating Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
Although they may have wanted to stop abusing prescription drugs, for many doctors, the process of managing their withdrawal meant they needed to treat withdrawal symptoms with prescription drugs as their addiction worsened. Increasingly, managing withdrawal became a more important reason to use drugs.
Other Factors Affecting Drug Use
Doctors, like the general population, become addicted to alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs, at similar or higher rates than the general population. But physicians also have a number of inherent pressures built into their profession, including extended workdays, educational demands, patient care, stress, and the availability of addictive substances and a failure of others in the medical profession to report impaired colleagues.
Researchers who spoke with doctors about why they misused prescription drugs said the findings highlight the importance of self-medication as a reason for such abuse, although recreational use is also important. The study points out that this is additional evidence that health care professionals who abuse prescription drugs may represent a special population of substance users, who may use substances for various reasons and may require different treatment methods.
The authors concluded that prevention efforts targeting prescription drug misuse among physicians should be initiated during medical training, with requirements for continuing education throughout physician’s careers.