Addiction and Alcohol Treatment for Doctors

Physicians are one of the hardest groups of people to get to commit to treatment. It takes something on the order of an intervention to accomplish it. But, once a doctor commits to treatment, his compliance is historically very high.

Treatment Philosophy Changing:

In treating physicians for alcohol and drug problems, a longer approach is recommended. For years, addiction specialists have been urging policymakers to take this approach. Because of the ongoing access doctors have to prescription drugs, their treatment should be longer, and they should be monitored for a much longer period of time.

A Better Program:

The Physician Health Program (PHP) has established a five-year treatment/monitoring program for physicians. Their goals and objectives have been publicized to doctors all over the country.

First, the physician meets with his family, administrators, friends, colleagues and bosses. This is almost an intervention. The doctor is offered the option of a five-year treatment program for alcohol or drug addiction — or he will be reported to his licensing authority and will most likely lose his license to practice medicine.
Of course, the doctor will most often choose treatment. This usually consists of a 90-day inpatient treatment program. There, the doctor will first withdraw from drugs or alcohol under medical supervision. This process usually lasts from three to seven days.

Then the physician enters treatment. In treatment, the doctor is given cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, education on drugs and alcohol, and personalized counseling. He also attends lectures and goes to 12-step meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Cocaine Anonymous (CA). At 12-step meetings, the doctor begins to develop mentors and friendships.
After inpatient treatment is finished, the physician has already established himself at a 12-step group meeting. He is urged to continue attending those meetings. The doctor is also able to return to his job.

The doctor’s aftercare consists of ongoing individual counseling and 12-step meeting attendance. Random drug testing is also administered.
Physicians who enter the PHP supervised program have an 80% success rate during the five years that they are monitored. Seventy percent of these doctors are able to maintain their medical licenses and are able to continue working in medicine.

The PHP approach to addiction treatment is proving to be better suited for addicted physicians than simply pulling their licenses and punishing them legally. After all, the goal is not to put a doctor in jail and render him unfit to practice medicine. Rather, the goal should be to return a doctor to society as a practicing physician with his drug addiction in check. This is what treatment does for people in other professions, and it should be the best option provided for physicians.

Through the PHP approach to treatment of addicted physicians, doctors sign a contract where they agree not to take prescription addictive drugs or drink alcohol for a five-year period. It is successful, it protects the public from potential harm, and it keeps doctors from losing their licenses to practice medicine.