Signs of Physician Addiction

Many impaired physicians can be described as “high functioning addicts.” Despite being dependent on drugs or alcohol, they manage to maintain their careers and families. Because they are still able to function in some capacity, many addicted doctors remain in denial until their disease is extremely advanced.

Physicians, who tend to be intelligent, independent and driven, typically use sophisticated methods of rationalization and justification to continue their behavior. Because they believe they can manage the problem on their own, are concerned about the negative consequences of coming forward and feel ashamed of their behaviors, they are often reluctant to reach out for help.

Addicted doctors are adept at concealing their symptoms, but there are signs concerned colleagues, family and friends can look out for, including:


• Recurrent health problems

• Changes in diet, appearance or sleep

• Appearing sedated or intoxicated

• Shakiness

• Bloodshot or watery eyes

• Slurred speech

• Stumbling or uncoordinated movements

• Smell of alcohol on breath

• Excessive sweating

• Dilated or pinpoint pupils

• Wearing long sleeves in warm weather (to hide injection marks)


• Withdrawing from colleagues, friends or family

• Excessive drinking at social functions

• Unusual or inappropriate behavior

• Frequent conflicts with family, patients, staff or others

• Legal problems, such as domestic complaints or driving under the influence


• Depression or hopelessness

• Unexplained mood swings

• Appearing overwhelmed

• Numbness or apathy


• Tardiness or absenteeism

• Missing appointments, falling asleep at meetings or being difficult to reach

• Making mistakes in record-keeping, patient care or other areas

• Volunteering for extra shifts

• Forgetfulness

• Patient complaints or lawsuits

• Spending extra time with those patients receiving mood-altering drugs

• Asking peers to prescribe medications for them or family members

• Volunteering to give medications to patients