Addicted Health Care Provider

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Karla
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:10 am

Addicted Health Care Provider

Post by Karla » Mon Sep 16, 2019 2:39 pm

My name is Karla, and I am an alcoholic, sober from alcohol since 11/28/2013. I am also a licensed and practicing Physician Assistant.

Healthcare providers are not immune to addiction. The general public may think that we are, but we absolutely are not. Addiction is not particular. It does not pick and choose. It may sneak up on the unsuspecting RN who has a drink or two every night to unwind after his insane shifts in the trauma unit until somehow, a few years later, he can’t stop. It can slap the face of the Anesthesiologist who, on a whim, uses some of the leftover dilaudid that he accidentally pocketed that day and becomes instantly hooked and it destroys his life. The mental health providers, who listen to problems day in and day out, need a means to relax. The drinks shared by all after an ER shift to unwind and decompress. It’s on Gray’s Anatomy, The Resident, Chicago Med. Everyone in medicine drinks. Or uses speed to wake up. Or benzos to calm down. Or weed for the ADHD. The irony is, what is considered acceptable and normal and is glorified and encouraged as a social activity after shifts, becomes a demoralizing and career ending problem once we cross the line into addiction. Then, we feel completely alone and ostracized. Shunned. Judged. We may be stripped of our licenses, our board certifications, or our jobs. We may never be able to return to work in our careers that we have trained a lifetime for, and if we do, you can be sure to find us on “bad-doctor.com” or something similar. No wonder we don’t ask for help. We are too afraid of the backlash.
The healers, it seems, are not supposed to be addicts. We should not be allowed to fall. We should not need to be healed. We are fully aware of the debate between disease versus choice and that are always going to be people who believe that addicts are morally flawed. We should be better than that and we should know better than to get ourselves into a predicament that would invite such judgement. Right?

Healthcare providers are not special. We are not protected from becoming addicted simply because of our titles. We most definitely know the warning signs, how many drinks is too many in a week, and the risks of using controlled substances. We perform CAGE tests on our patients. We may even find ourselves judging patients whose use is out of control, which only makes it more humiliating and baffling when we find ourselves addicted. We should be able to think our way out of this. We are smarter than this disease. We are educated. We have all of these important letters behind our names. There must be a scientific way, or a prescription, or some way that we, in healthcare, can manage this thing differently than other people. Right?

Wrong. What is possibly different about us, however, is the lengths that we will go to hide our use. Secrets, lies, deceit. Because we feel we HAVE to hide it. Our careers – our livelihood – depends on it. A DUI or drug charge can be, and often is, career ending for someone in healthcare. We are, as a rule, smart. We have access to medications, prescriptions, electronic medical records, laboratory equipment, and usually we have financial resources to pay for our drug of choice. The dance of active addiction can often go on longer for us in healthcare.
Once my carefully constructed house of cards fell down around me and blew away, I was convinced that I would never work again in my trained profession. I thought my life was over. I had lost everything career related, and life related and figured I did not deserve any of it back. I reasoned it was my fault, my choice. I had become a drunk, and thought I was a bad person. My fear was that no one would want to hire or associate with me.

I was wrong. Once sober, the gift of choice returned. There was a way to get my life and livelihood back, and then some. This country wants and needs qualified healthcare providers. Almost every state has a program in place that helps healthcare providers get the treatment they need, and allows them to ease back into their careers under strict monitoring. The agencies generally want us to succeed. Their first goal, obviously, is to protect the general public from anyone practicing while impaired. So, we may have to jump through a lot of hoops and follow a whole lot of rules. But it is possible, in many cases. The monitoring program was an absolute Godsend to me, providing hope along with a significant amount of accountability on my part.

Returning to work and trying to stay sober brings in a whole new set of challenges for the healthcare provider. We are supposed to provide care to others. Superb care. Perfection, or at least close to it, is expected of us in our workplace. Patient’s lives depend on it. So how can we turn the “perfect switch” to the off position when we leave work? How can we lessen our expectations of ourselves? How can we decrease the pressures that our careers bring? And, how can we care for ourselves so that we do not reach back for that bottle or the pills or the needle?

For me, that is heavily dependent on self-care and a 12-step program. I also take a non-addictive medication to keep my anxiety controlled. I attend meetings, I meet with my sponsor, I started a healthcare provider recovery meeting which I lead every week. I sponsor other addicts and alcoholics. I bring meetings to local treatment centers and to the county jail. I did everything that was required to get my PA license back. It took a great deal of effort and a long time, and has been so incredibly worth it. The rewards of recovery are too numerous to list here, and include family, friends, children, and career. Most of all, I have integrity. I can look in the mirror and like who I see. I am happy and healthy and loved. And worthy. And good enough.

And so are you.

Thoughts and comments welcome. Dialogue encouraged. Thank you!!

Free2bme
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Oct 17, 2019 10:50 pm

Re: Addicted Health Care Provider

Post by Free2bme » Thu Oct 17, 2019 11:34 pm

Thank you for starting this forum Karla! I isolated for years because I thought that I was a horrible person for having this problem while working in healthcare. I was wrong. Finding a network of healthcare workers in recovery has helped me shed the fear and shame I had felt being an RN with alcoholism. I can recognize I’m human, ask for help with my problems, and safely provide care in my recovery. This forum is another great tool to share experience, strength, and hope. I’m excited to see the dialogues!

Karla
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:10 am

Re: Addicted Health Care Provider

Post by Karla » Fri Oct 18, 2019 3:19 pm

Free2bme,
Welcome!!
Oh that shame is wicked and I know it well. Thank you for joining us and for taking the time to share. You are absolutely not alone!!

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