An estimated 6 percent of physicians have drug use disorders and 14 percent have an alcohol use disorder---figures that mirror addiction in the general population 1. Anesthesiologists and emergency medicine physicians are three times more likely to abuse substances than the general population of physicians 2.
Because the public trusts physicians with their health and life, these significant numbers of impaired physicians are a cause for concern.
Opinion 8.15 Substance Abuse
It is unethical for a physician to practice medicine while under the influence of a controlled substance, alcohol, or other chemical agents which impair the ability to practice medicine.
Despite their education about the effects of these chemicals, physicians are not immune to the lure of alcohol and drugs. They may be especially at risk of long-term addiction disorders because:
- they have easy access to pharmaceuticals
- they are overly confident that "I can handle it," or "I know when to back down"
- they use drugs to kill voices of fear and self-shame and to bolster confidence in a difficult profession
- their authority level makes detection difficult
- they may have a reluctance to confront addictive behaviors
- they may be unwilling to admit weakness
1. Regier DA, Farmer ME, Rae DS, et al. Comorbidity of mental disorders with alcohol and other drug abuse. JAMA. 1990;268:1012-1014.
2. Mansky PA. Physician health programs and the potentially impaired physician with a substance use disorder. Psychiatr Serv. 1996;47:465-467.