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Substance Abuse And Chemical Dependency

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According to UAB's health website, "Substance abuse is used to describe a pattern of substance (drug) use leading to significant problems or distress such as failure to attend work/school, substance use in dangerous situations (driving a car), substance-related legal problems, or continued substance use that interferes with friendships and or family relationships. Substance abuse, as a disorder, refers to the abuse of illegal substances or the abusive use of legal substances. Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse."

"Chemical dependence is used to describe the compulsive use of chemicals (drugs or alcohol) and the inability to stop using them despite all the problems caused by their use." (

Most people look to their health care providers with gratitude, respect, and even love, especially toward physicians and surgeons. Being held in such high regard by the public, care providers should strive to be an example in ethics to the public they serve. The healthcare community as a whole is constructed of responsible, caring and highly trained professionals, whose main interest and goal is the well-being of their patients. But among these professionals there is also a group that has fallen or will fall prey to the dangers of substance abuse and/or chemical dependence. The major hypothesis of my research is; there is a social, ethical, economical and patient safety problem of substance abuse and chemical dependency among healthcare professionals.

In a recent lecture given by one of my nursing instructors she made the statement that ten of the seventy-four students presently enrolled in their first semester of the nursing program would be brought before the State Board of Nursing within the next ten years for a drug related incidence. This statement was disturbing and I decided that this topic was worthy of research, and possibly even vital to me as a future entry-level registered nurse.

"Among health care professionals such as physicians, nurses, dentists and veterinarians prescription medication abuse and dependence (=addiction) not uncommonly commences almost "by accident" as the stressed, distressed, tired, and often depressed clinician takes a dose of pain medicine or a tranquillizer to relieve a temporary physical discomfort and discovers that there is an unexpected "bonus effect" in the relief of mental and emotional tension, the soothing of depression, and the augmentation of energy and drive. This effect is then actively pursued by taking the no-longer-needed medication for a "non-medical" purpose, often with gradual increase in frequency of use and quantity of consumption until the full behavioral syndrome of addiction (= substance dependence) has set in and the person has become preoccupied with obtaining and using the medication in amounts far exceeding the normal dose and for reasons not related to the proper therapeutic usage of the drug."

(Floyd P. Garrett, M.D.

Substance Abuse and Chemical Dependency

Within the Healthcare Community

Russell Tilley

Introduction to Sociology

Research Report

Fall 2005


The statement that was made at the introduction of this research, "Most people look to their health care providers with gratitude, respect, and even love, especially toward physicians and surgeons" has been a recurring theme throughout this paper. It has been upheld by many of the articles that have been sited and is a central view of the many authors of these articles and essays.

The major hypothesis of my research; "there is a social, ethical, economical and patient safety problem of substance abuse and chemical dependency among healthcare professionals" has also been firmly upheld by the authors and articles presented within. Some of the major findings of my research include, but are not limited to the following excerpts:

"Substance abuse among health professionals, serious though rarely acknowledged, affects the well-being of many professionals and their patients. Relatively little has been done to develop preventive programs."

From: "Drug abuse prevention for trainees in the health profession." by: R.H. Coombs

"Because people are reluctant to discuss the problem, the extent of drug abuse by healthcare workers is hard to evaluate. With 10 to 15% of all healthcare professionals misusing drugs at some time in their careers, the statistics on drug abuse by professionals seem to show a pattern similar to the general population. But while healthcare professionals abuse drugs at about the same rate as the general population, their choice of drug is different. Healthcare professionals tend to use benzodiazepines and opiates - no doubt because they are more inclined to use the drugs they routinely work with. Use of the traditional recreational drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, is lower than among the population as a whole.

"One reason healthcare professionals may not be detected as drug abusers is that their job performance often seems to be the last thing affected by their drug abuse. In the general community, employers are advised to look for early signs of drug abuse, such as increased rates of absenteeism or decline in job performance, which doesn't seem to be the case with healthcare professionals. Those in healthcare will alienate their families, destroy their finances, drop out of their usual recreations, and only then have their problems show up on the job. Just possibly, impaired healthcare professionals are less likely to miss work simply because they get their drugs on the job.

From: "Addicts in the OR? Drug abuse among healthcare professionals", by Samuel D. Uretsky, PhD

"Early symptoms of chemical dependency are frequently non-specific. In physicians, the disease of addiction is almost always in an advanced state before the signs and symptoms become obvious in the workplace. Physicians often are in denial about their addiction, which allows them to justify their behavior and to avoid painful knowledge about their actions. Even without denial, the guilt and shame that often is associated with a diagnosis of addiction will cause a physician to do his best to avoid detection



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