Types of Treatment for Doctors Abusing Drugs

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Calendar icon Last Updated: 07/13/2018
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Doctors abusing drugs often need very specific treatment types based on the drug they are abusing and the rehab program they decide to attend. It is important that physicians with substance abuse problems are able to receive the treatment type(s) best for them so that they can recover from their drug use, mend fences with their family and friends, and, eventually, return to work.

Physicians have remarkable abstinence rates after completing an addiction/rehabilitation program compared with the general population. Abstinence rates are between 74% and 90%,” and one of the major reasons why is the availability of different treatment types for doctors recovering from substance abuse.


Just like in the case of any other individual, medication can be an essential part of treatment for a doctor who has been abusing drugs. However, it is always important to combine the use of medication with behavioral treatments as well.

Medications can be used to help with different aspects of the treatment process,” such as withdrawal, stabilization, cravings, etc., but better outcomes are usually achieved when a patient receives medication as part of a larger treatment program.

Medications can be beneficial for addicted physicians, and some types are more suited for these individuals than others. For example, naltrexone is a medication that can be used to treat opioid addiction. It is extremely effective and can cause withdrawal to occur in anyone who is dependent on opioids; unfortunately, it is because of this that the drug is not as well tolerated by many patients as other opioid addiction medications are (like methadone and buprenorphine).

Physicians and other middle-class patients who are highly motivated to get free of the opiate because they have so much to lose from a persistent addiction” are extremely good candidates for this particular medication.


Physicians also need to attend therapy sessions, just other patients working through their addictions. “Counseling – individual and/or group – and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment,” and this is because there is usually some type of therapy that is beneficial for every patient (NIDA). Like with medication treatment, though, doctors may need a specific type of therapy that caters to their needs.

  • During the initial evaluation, most physicians will deny having a problem.” A therapy type like cognitive-behavioral therapy or the Matrix Model can help engage them in their treatment and allow them to start to realize that they may actually need help.
  • The Matrix Model, which is beneficial for the treatment of stimulant abuse, allows the patient and therapist to form a strong bond, which could be beneficial to a doctor in this situation. Many doctors regularly attend therapy sessions in order to work through their problems, and it is important for them to feel that their therapist understands them and is competent in their work.
  • Doctors begin abusing drugs for many reasons, a number of which involve their work. These could include guilty or depressed feelings over a patient, striving to be the best, long hours, etc. To be able to discuss these issues with another doctor (who may also have experienced many of them) can be incredibly helpful.

It is important to remember these aspects of therapeutic treatment for doctors and how they may relate to you (or your loved one) as an individual. Therapy is an incredibly helpful tool that allows people to open up and realize things about themselves that they didn’t before. It can also change some of the problems the physician is dealing with that may have helped to cause their addiction.

Urine Testing

In many cases, doctors who seek addiction treatment will agree to random drug testing, even after their initial recovery is established. This could continue into the time where they move back into their practice and begin seeing patients again. The reason for this is to allow for “unambiguous success markers, because doctors are working with patients and attempting to treat and protect them, they have to be sober and sharp as well as able to take care of themselves. These tests can prove that they are while also giving them a reminder of the need to take their recovery seriously, even months or years into it. Many physician health programs use urine testing to ensure that doctors are clean and sober.

Peer Help

Doctors often feel that no one can understand what they are going through except for another doctor. Because the job is so stressful and intense, peers can actually provide the kind of treatment doctors need by just being there to listen and help. While many doctors would have trouble being treated by their colleagues, it is important for these individuals to encourage each other to attend treatment and get help.

Some hospitals may pair doctors with one of their peers after addiction treatment in order to help them stay on track. This in itself is a treatment because it reinforces correct behavior in the same way resocialization does in addiction rehab. Because the doctor is able to talk to someone else who knows what they are going through and supports their recovery, they will become stronger in the long run.

Rehabilitation, Not Punishment

Some individuals believe addicted doctors should be punished with the loss of their licenses and the inability to ever again practice medicine. Most programs actually do not ascribe to this idea, and doctors are often given a number of treatments and tools to help them recover and avoid this possibility. However, in the case of doctors who are unable to stop abusing drugs, even when they have received the essential treatments listed above, it may be necessary.

With the general success rate of treatment for doctors and the belief that individuals respond better to treatment than punishment for a disease like addiction, the latter option should only be a solution when the treatments listed above have failed to help a physician stop abusing drugs. Otherwise, there are plenty of treatment types for doctors in this position, and an exceptional likelihood that most will recover.