Substance Abuse
in Healthcare

Addiction resources and expert advice for healthcare professionals and students.

Last Updated: 01/23/2020
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MEET THE EXPERT

Rebecca Newman
Rebecca Newman

View Bio

Rebecca Newman, MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and writer, specializing in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, infertility, substance abuse, grief and loss, gender and sexuality, trauma, and adjustment to life changes. She earned a BA in Creative Writing from Oberlin College and an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received the John Hope Franklin Award for Combating American Racism. She works as a clinical supervisor and psychotherapist for an academic hospital system in Philadelphia.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 19.7 million Americans, ages 12 and up, struggle with substance abuse issues or disorders each year. Despite being educated on the risks of short- and long-term substance abuse, students and professionals in the healthcare industry face the same risks of developing an addiction as the rest of the U.S. population. More than 100,000 healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and technicians, struggle with addiction every day.

Although most healthcare professionals comply with the DEA’s controlled substances laws and regulations, substance abuse exists among healthcare professionals who may self-medicate to relieve stress, improve focus, or alter their moods both at home and on-the-job. The following guide can help you learn to recognize the signs of substance abuse in a colleague, a coworker, a student, and in your own habits. Additionally, we offer information and tips from a substance abuse expert and links to useful resources for those who may need help.

(This guide is not meant to replace professional help. If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for treatment referrals and additional information.)

Understanding Substance Abuse in the Healthcare Industry

Jobs in healthcare can be demanding, and require hard work and perseverance. These jobs also demand that professionals be able to handle the stressors, fatigue, and physical demands of fast-paced, emotionally charged scenarios on a daily basis. While many of us take these characteristics of healthcare careers as a given, these components can lead to substance abuse and addiction.

Healthcare professionals encounter workplace scenarios that can exacerbate existing life circumstances and challenges they have going on outside of work. Substances, whether drugs or alcohol, become popular coping mechanisms in times of great stress. Additionally, professionals in the field may justify their substance use as a way to battle fatigue and carry on their job as a caregiver. Whatever the reasons or justifications, abusing substances in any way can take its toll on you, your patients, friends, and family.

According to the executive director at Harvard Health, one in 10 physicians and other healthcare workers will develop a problem with alcohol or drugs during their careers. As a healthcare professional or student, you need to be aware of your own substance use and the behaviors of those around you. Let’s start with a closer look at addiction and substance abuse among professionals in the healthcare field, and the ways these behaviors can affect your personal health, which substances commonly plague healthcare workers, and how to identify signs of abuse.

Addiction & Substance Abuse Among Healthcare Professionals

Professior

Experts have shown that addiction is a disease. It changes the way your brain functions and erases your ability to make rational decisions about using the substance. And because of the diminished return of many intoxicating substances, which is the reason why you must take more and more of a particular substance to experience the same feeling or results as before, untreated addictions are likely to grow worse over time. This holds true for healthcare professions at all levels, regardless of their knowledge of the medical field and amount of academic training. Just like anyone else, they may need help facing and battling their addictions.

Professionals may be hesitant to disclose information about their addiction or substance abuse out of fear of losing the ability to prescribe or administer narcotics or controlled substances. Depending on a professional’s job, this could ultimately limit their ability to work in certain areas of the field, especially where highly regulated medications are readily available, such as an intensive care unit.

Despite these potential consequences, it is still best for you, your family, coworkers, and patients that you seek the proper medical assistance for any form of substance abuse or addictions that you may have.

Effects in the Workplace

Aside from fairly common mistakes in paperwork or documentation, healthcare professionals with addictions may also make serious, life-threatening errors while on a job. A seemingly small error in dosing or procedural method can drastically change patient outcomes and survival rates. As a result of their malpractices, a substance-abusing healthcare professional may leave a hospital, clinic, or health system liable for a wrongful death suit, for example. In other words, your participation and engagement in a healthcare environment as an addict comes with high stakes and seriously affects your coworkers and patients, often beyond your comprehension in the moment.

Addiction and substance abuse also can cause professional rifts in your career. As an employee that’s part of a community, you must uphold a high professional and social standard that affords the institution to carry on as intended and help those in need. Any disruption in this system as a result of addiction or substance abuse can negatively impact your ability to advance in your career, develop healthy and lasting relationships with coworkers, and ultimately diminish your ability to perform as a healthcare worker.

  • Diminished quality of work
  • Putting a facility or health system at risk
  • Can create legal issues
  • Causing avoidable harm to patients or coworkers
  • Burning bridges between yourself and coworkers
  • Sabotaging opportunities for your career growth and advancement

Signs of Substance Abuse in Healthcare Professionals

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of substance abuse can be especially difficult in healthcare workers. While sedation and lethargy are commonly identified symptoms of substance abuse, many opioid dependent healthcare workers experience a jolt of energy from the drugs. In many cases, they believe themselves to be more productive while under the influence. These “high functioning addicts” may still be able to (or think they’re able to) maintain their careers and home lives for a period of time without others noticing. Unfortunately, despite their ability to maintain some kind of stability, it is only a matter of time until their substance abuse takes its toll on their body, mental health, job, or the patients they serve.

Here is a list of potential warning signs that someone may be suffering from substance abuse while trying to maintain their job duties and homelife.

  • Changing tasks frequently
  • Falling asleep on the job or between shifts
  • Nervousness about working overtime
  • Frequent unexplained absences
  • Extreme financial or family stress
  • Glassy eyes
  • Giant or pinpoint pupils
  • Preferring to work night shifts where there is less supervision and greater access to medication

Common Substances (Illegal and legal)

Substance abusers and addicts take advantage of a wide variety of illegal and legal drugs. From easily attainable, legal substances like alcohol to illegal narcotics such as heroin, alcohol and drugs can become a crutch for virtually anyone. In some cases, individuals receive drugs through common social channels, including their coworkers or friends. In the U.S., diverted medication, or the gift or sale of medications by the prescription holder to a non-prescription holder, is a growing illegal problem. The Joint Commission reported that, from 2017 to 2018, the diversion of legally prescribed opioids grew by 166%. Of those incidents, approximately 34% happened among healthcare professionals in care facilities and pharmacies.

In this section, we take a close look at the most commonly abused substances by healthcare professionals today. Covering both the legal and illegal, we provide a brief background on the substance, its effects on the body, and how to tell if someone you know is abusing it.

Beer

Beer, Wine, Spirits

These three alcoholic beverages are among the most readily available and common substances. Regardless of the type of beverage, you need to be at least 21 years old to purchase alcohol in the U.S. While the general regulations of the purchase and consumption of alcohol varies between states, these beverages are legal across the board for those of age. Just because alcohol is easy to acquire and legal does not mean that it’s exempt from negatively affecting you both on and off the job.

Its effects

While alcohol can affect bodies differently, according to studies by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol disrupts mood and behavior, decreases coordination, and weakens the immune system. More seriously, abusing alcohol can lead to different types of cancer, including esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer.

Signs of use

Some of the more common signs that an individual has been consuming alcohol include poor judgement, memory impairment, slurred speech, and engaging in risky behavior. People who have been using alcohol long-term may display signs of avoiding social events, family, or work obligations to make time to drink in private. Additionally, they may be secretive about when and how much alcohol they consume or show signs of distress when not having easy access to alcohol.

Opioids

Prescription Opioids

Opioids are a class of drug that interacts with the brain that typically reduce pain or create a calming effect. Well-known opioids prescribed by doctors are drugs such as Oxycodone and Vicodin. An especially potent painkiller is Fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that can be more than 100 times more powerful than morphine. In 2017, opioids were responsible for more than 68% of drug overdoses in the U.S. Of the 100,000 healthcare professionals who struggle with drug addiction each day, a majority of them abuse Oxycodone or Fentanyl. For any healthcare professional who has been prescribed an opioid, read our guide to safe and responsible pain management.

Its effects

One of the most common serious side effects of abusing opioids are addiction and dependence. As a result of a diminished return over time, users must take more of the drug to recreate the effects and feeling of previous experiences. Taking too much of an opioid in any one sitting can cause life-threatening effects, namely the slowing or stopping of your breathing.

Signs of use

Individuals who are addicted to opioids may demonstrate uncontrollable cravings and an inability to regulate their use of the drug. Opioid abusers can experience chronic constipation, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, or a decreased sex drive. Additional signs of use may include sleep problems, uncontrollable leg movements, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle or bone pain.

Heroin

Heroin

While related chemically to Oxycodone and Vicodin, heroin is an illegal drug made from morphine. Extracted from seeds in poppy plants found in Colombia, Mexico, and the southern regions of Asia, heroin may contain additives such as starch, sugar, powdered milk and other substances that can make it a more dangerous substance. It is common for people who abuse Oxycodone or Vicodin to move on to abuse illegal drugs such as heroin.

Its effects

Heroin, like other opioids, attaches to receptors on brain cells, especially those that correlate to feelings of pleasure and pain, control the heart rate, and affect sleeping and breathing. Heroin with additives can lead to blocked blood vessels that directly affect the brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs and can cause permanent damage to your vital organs.

Signs of use

Users may experience flushing of the skin, nausea and vomiting, itching sensations, poor mental functioning, or rapidly transitions between states of consciousness and semi-consciousness. Additionally, long-term effects range from insomnia, lung complications, and kidney disease to diminished libido, constipation, and damaged tissue inside the nose.

Cocaine

Cocaine

Although healthcare providers have historically been able to use cocaine for accepted medical purposes, such as a local anesthetic, recreational use of cocaine is illegal. Users can snort, smoke, or inject cocaine, which increases levels of dopamine in the brain. Addiction occurs by way of a “reward circuit” in the brain that reinforces drug-taking behaviors. As with many serious drugs, there is a diminished return with cocaine, and users typically need to take more of the drug to experience the same high or achieve adequate relief from withdrawal symptoms.

Its effects

While cocaine may be rationalized as a way to gain energy and increase focus, namely an increase in feelings of happiness and mental alertness, the drug has serious short- and long-term effects. Using large amounts of cocaine can lead to violent and unpredictable behavior. Regular users can lose their sense of smell, experience severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow, and are at a higher risk of heart attacks, seizures, and strokes. When mixed with alcohol, cocaine can seriously affect your cardiac system.

Signs of use

Cocaine users may experience severe nausea, increase in body temperature and blood pressure, irregular or fast heartbeats, muscle twitches, and dilated pupils. When you stop using cocaine abruptly, you may experience significant withdrawal symptoms including increased appetite, insomnia, depression, slow thinking, and restlessness.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamines are an extremely addictive man-made stimulant. While the effects of the drug may be similar to cocaine for some users, methamphetamine does not metabolize in the body as quickly and therefore remains in the brain and bloodstream longer.

Its effects

Derived from the drug amphetamine, which medical professionals used for nasal decongestants and inhalers over the years, methamphetamine increases users’ physical activity and talkativeness. Methamphetamine users also experience short-term euphoria. This stimulant, however, poses significant short- and long-term risks for the central nervous system. The drug can cause rapid heart rate, increase blood pressure, and irregular heartbeats. Additionally, users can experience an increase in body temperature which may lead to body convulsions and even death.

Signs of use

Methamphetamine users typically experience short-term increased attention and lower fatigue levels. They may also show signs of rotting teeth, scratching sensations, confusion, irritability, and paranoia. Some users may exhibit facial acne or open sores as well as loose or drooping skin, a general thinning of the body, and loss of muscle mass.

Remember, No One is Immune

For many of us who work outside of the healthcare profession, it is hard to believe that healthcare professionals are susceptible to substance abuse or addiction issues like the rest of us. Despite what these professionals know about drugs and alcohol from a medical and academic standpoint, they are just as likely to abuse substances as the other members of the general public. In fact, when it comes to prescription medications, healthcare workers are five times more likely to take advantage of their professional situation and misuse these substances.

The common belief that healthcare professionals are immune to substance abuse and addiction only reinforces the stigma of addiction as being something that happens to particular types of people from certain backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, or career types. As a prospective or current healthcare student or a working professional, it is important for you to take seriously the fact that approximately 10-15% of healthcare professionals will misuse drugs or alcohol during their careers. If you or someone you know in the healthcare community needs help with addiction, there are supportive and affirming professionals who understand your situation and can assist you immediately.

Getting Help as a Professional

Too often, healthcare professionals are able to hide their addictions or substance abuse and avoid getting treatment. In too many scenarios, professionals and their friends or family are often hesitant to report substance abuse issues because of potential legal, social, professional, or financial consequences. One of the first points of contact for professionals who need help with substance abuse and addictions should be the state’s impaired physician or physician health program. As of December 2019, only three states do not have a physician health program: California, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

These organizations employ professionals who know the best ways for healthcare workers to get help and take advantage of available programs. Additionally, physician health programs help healthcare professionals who voluntarily participate in treatment programs to remain anonymous. In 2009, a study conducted by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that approximately 75% of physicians who entered the state physician health program were drug-free after five years. At least 71% of these individuals kept their license to practice and their job.

While following treatment in a state program, you will probably need to engage with a predetermined recovery program including a variety of steps. State programs often entail inpatient treatment, group therapy sessions, individual psychotherapy, 12-step meetings, drug screenings, and sometimes workplace monitoring. That being said, to reiterate, these state programs go to extreme lengths to protect your anonymity during your treatment.

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Resources for Professionals

As a healthcare professional or a friend or family member of someone in the field with substance abuse issues, it is important to explore modern treatment and recovery options. In the section below, we offer links to a variety of facilities and online resources that serve healthcare professionals with addictions of all types.

University of Michigan Addiction Center
Located in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, the Addiction Center is one of the leading research facilities in the field of mental health. This facility features the first comprehensive center for studies on depression and is home to the Molecular and Behavioral Neurosciences Institute. The Addiction Center offers inpatient and outpatient patient care services and variety of online resources.

Positive Sobriety Institute
Located in Chicago, the institute serves as an addiction recovery destination for physicians and related healthcare professionals. Patients are given comprehensive and individualized science-based treatment plans.

Addiction Center
Addiction Center serves as an online hub, with links to online resources regarding recovery and addiction. The site includes access to rehab center information across the U.S. and a rehab center search engine.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
This agency is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and focuses on public health initiatives. The site offers a wide variety of online resources on recovery and addiction.

DrugRehab.com
This site includes access to an online recovery community, featuring patient addiction and recovery stories, a recovery podcast, relevant news blog, and online guides and articles exploring the latest addiction treatment methods and rehab centers.

Federation of State Physician Health Programs
The site includes information regarding physician health programs available across the U.S. and extensive information on physician drug addiction.

Center for Excellence for Integrated Health Solutions
Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration, CIHS promotes integrated and behavioral health services for patients in behavioral health and primary care settings with mental health and substance use concerns.

Alcoholics Anonymous
This is an international fellowship of individuals with drinking problems. In addition to online resources, AA offers free in-person meetings and support groups in most locations.

Helping Other Live Sober
As part of a research project at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, HOLS provides researchers with a variety of online resources as well as resources that help foster clean living for those in recovery.

National Institute on Drug Abuse
This site includes information regarding commonly abused drugs and is divided into easy-to-use sections. Each link includes a detailed overview of the drug and user statistics, as well as relevant articles and publications on recovery.

Healthcare Students & Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can manifest in students in many ways. We each respond differently to substances, stress, and tough situations. Healthcare students experience various pressures from their families, peers, and professors that may prompt vulnerable individuals to use and abuse substances as coping mechanisms.

Additionally, many healthcare students are in their early twenties and are dealing with the pressures of adulthood, advanced academic studies, and new stressors. This balance of life, schoolwork, and family can be a lot to handle. In a section that follows, we describe the ways in which substance abuse affects students both inside and outside the classroom, offer descriptions of the most commonly abused substances by students, and provide a list of resources for treatment and recovery.

Cheers

Effects in the Classroom

Healthcare students with substance abuse issues may find that performing at their highest academic level is extremely difficult. If you find yourself struggling with substances it may be tough to see exactly how it is affecting your life and work in the classroom. If this bulleted list below describes your experience as a student, it is time to seek professional help.

  • Lack of study time as a result of mismanaging time because of a substance
  • Erratic behavior while in training or clinical rotations
  • Using substances to prepare for stressful situations or clinical training scenarios
  • Consistent poor performance in hands-on training
  • Frequent or recurring mistakes on written assignments
  • Difficulty working with peers in collaborative settings
  • Rampant financial difficulties as a result of a substance
  • Lack of motivation to perform well in school

Signs of Abuse in Students

It can be a challenge to recognize signs of substance abuse in students, even among their friends or family members who interact with them on a daily basis. The lines between simply using a substance, such as occasionally drinking alcohol at social functions, and substance abuse can become blurry, especially in a socially driven setting like college campuses. The following list contains potential warning signs that a healthcare undergraduate or graduate student may be suffering from substance abuse.

  • Missing class regularly, and is out of character
  • Sleeping late and missing engagements
  • Losing interest in subjects or activities they once enjoyed
  • Excessive irritability that is out of character, both in and out of school
  • Breaking rules or disregard for authority of teachers or administrators
  • Sudden or gradual changes in physical appearance such as weight gain, tremors, or watery eyes
  • Difficulty staying focused or completing assignments
  • Regularly asking to borrow money from friends

Common Substances (Illegal and legal)

Social interaction, engaging in enjoyable activities, and maintaining healthy relationships is an important part of life for all of us. As a college student, your social life in college plays a significant role in your overall experience while in school, helps you make personal and professional connections with peers in your program, and offers much deserved breaks from school work.

Bear in mind that social activities can easily affect your academic performance when not enjoyed in moderation. This especially holds true for social activities that involve the use of both legal and illegal substances. In the section that follows, we highlight some of the more commonly abused substance among college students, how they negatively affect the body over time, and signs that students may be suffering from addiction.

Beer

Beer, Wine, Spirits

As one of the most easily accessible and commonly abused substances, alcohol is prevalent on college campuses. According to AlcoholRehabGuide.Org, approximately 80% of college students consume alcohol. Of that subset, approximately 50% engage in binge drinking activities. For men, binge drinking equates to five or more alcoholic beverages in two hours. For women, it is four drinks or more in two hours.

Its effects

Excessive consumption of alcohol can take its toll on your academics, social life, and overall health. Students who engage and binge drinking are more likely to experience bodily injury while under the Influence, become a victim of assault, or commit crimes. Heavy drinkers can experience issues with their livers, cardiac system, pancreas, and general brain functions, and nearly 150,000 college students develop some type of alcohol-related health problem each year.

Signs of use

Signs that someone may be using alcohol in excess include loss of memory, lack of comprehension, blurred vision, trouble walking normally, slow heart rate, and vomiting. Alcohol may cause the drinker’s face to flush, give them a false sense of confidence, depression and anxiety, and shorten their attention spans.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens

Drugs such as Ecstasy and LSD are referred to as hallucinogenic substances. Drugs in this family may also be considered classified as dissociative drugs, such as PCP. They can be synthetic, man-made products or be found in natural objects like plants or mushrooms. Hallucinogens are often taken recreationally because of their ability to distort the user’s perception of reality and potentially cause hallucinations.

Its effects

Hallucinogens alter the user’s perception of reality by acting on neural circuits and the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Users typically experience a euphoric state lasting up to 12 hours. Classic hallucinogens such as LSD and Psilocybin may cause the user to experience increased blood pressure, faster heart rates, and high body temperatures. User may also become dizzy, paranoid, or unable to sleep. After repeated use, you can experience persistent psychosis, including visual disturbances, paranoia, mood disturbances, and distorted thought processes.

Signs of use

Signs that someone is under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs include panics, reacting to stimuli that aren’t actually present, irrational thinking, and dangerous behavior. Users may also have poor perception of speed and depth and report feeling like they are having an “out-of-body” or dissociative experience.

Pills

Prescription Pills

Recent studies have shown that prescription pills and the abuse of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin is increasingly common among college students. A recent study found that more than 60% of students with valid ADHD medication prescriptions were diverting the pills to students who did not possess a prescription of their own. Students who illegally distribute drugs put themselves at risk for a $10,000 fine or 10 years in jail.

Its effects

Popular drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall help increase the user’s focus and allows them to block out distractions more easily. With continued use of Adderall, there is a diminished return and users need to take more of the drug to experience the same level of influence they felt previously. Relying on these drugs for focus can seriously impair one’s ability to complete tasks without it.

Signs of use

Signs that somebody may be abusing prescription pills include extreme irritability, irregular heartbeat, hostility, and paranoia. Users may also have a drug problem if they find themselves taking more than the prescribed amount of medication, consistently request refills before the prescribed time, or order pills over the internet.

Cocaine

Cocaine

Students who use cocaine often begin doing so recreationally. As a drug that is frequently portrayed as glamorous in movies and among celebrities, cocaine’s documented addictive properties and harmful effects on the human body are often an afterthought. Students may use cocaine as a way to temporarily increase their energy levels or improve their moods.

Its effects

While you may experience heightened levels of energy while using cocaine, the drug can lead to irritability, depression, paranoia, mood swings, and sleep issues. The drug poses significant risk to your overall health, as well. The drug constricts blood vessels and results in unhealthy blood pressure. Additionally, snorting cocaine deteriorates the nasal cavity and septum.

Signs of use

Steady cocaine users get used to having large amounts of dopamine in the brain while under the influence. Without the drug, users have a difficult time feeling like themselves or acting normally. Cocaine withdrawal does not often manifest with physical symptoms and is likely to surface in psychological ways like depression and anxiety. Similar to other illegal substances, using cocaine is an expensive habit. Users may find themselves asking friends and family for financial assistance on a regular basis.

Getting Help as a Student

As a college or university student, you likely have access to nearby and free medical care and/or psychological counseling. The healthcare professionals that you contact will be able to direct you toward whichever inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation services best serve your needs. Depending on your particular needs, you may need to participate in inpatient treatment and stay at a health facility for a period of time, especially if withdrawal symptoms and a period of detox is required.

Students today also face a number of barriers when trying to get help with addiction or staying sober. Many social events in academic settings, including social functions sponsored by academic departments, include readily available alcohol. In this way, it can be difficult for you or your colleagues to avoid these situations, as your attendance and participation is often expected. These events also serve as some of the rare occasions where you get to engage with your peers and professors in a non-classroom setting, which many professionally minded students consider to be a valuable networking opportunity. If you find yourself in this scenario at school, consider talking with an academic advisor or professor about your desire to avoid alcohol. These conversations are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and remain confidential.

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Resources

Your campus health clinics and counselors should be up to date on the best local resources for your treatment and recovery needs. Additionally, the internet can provide some quick access to valuable information. In the section that follows, we offer a list of 10 resources for students to explore. This list ranges from rehabilitation centers and physician’s websites to helpful information for students wondering if they or their friends have substance or addiction issues.

Alcohol Rehab Guide, College Alcoholism
In addition to providing a comprehensive website on addiction treatment and access to support services, this site includes a section on college alcoholism. This easy-to-use online resource explains the dangers of excessive alcohol use in college and where to find treatment programs.

Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine
This resource is designed specifically for adolescents and young adults with substance abuse issues. Founded in 1968, this organization aims to improve the well being of adolescents and young people through clinical care, health service delivery, professional development, research, and health promotion.

Addiction Center
Addiction Center serves as an online hub, with links to online resources regarding recovery and addiction. The site includes access to rehab center information across the U.S. and a rehab center search engine.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
This agency is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and focuses on public health initiatives. The site offers a wide variety of online resources on recovery and addiction.

Rosecrance
This organization offers inpatient treatment at several locations and serves as an excellent online resource for mental health and recovery information.

College Aim Alcohol Intervention Matrix
Created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), CollegeAIM is an easy-to-use website to help schools locate effective alcohol intervention programs based on the latest research. It also serves as a good resource for up-to-date statistics on drinking on college campuses.

StartYourRecovery.Org
This site includes detailed information about addiction in students, how to identify substance abuse issues, and provides links to treatment and recovery options.

Avenues: A Recovery Community
In addition to offering recovery programs and inpatient services in several states across the U.S., Avenues offers an online guide to college substance abuse and recovery practices.

Northeast Addictions Treatment Center
This organization offers inpatient therapy and treatment sessions for individuals with substance abuse issues. Additionally, its website provides detailed information on alcohol consumption, prescription and illegal drugs, and how addictions manifest among college students.

Skywood Recovery
Skyward is a residential treatment facility located in Augusta, Michigan, with extensive online resources for college students.

Resources to Recovery
Created by mental health professionals, experts, and family members of those affected by mental illnesses, this online resource provides a gateway to extensive recovery resources. The site features a regularly updated blog about addiction and offers articles specifically for college students.

Q&A with a Substance Abuse Expert

Rebecca Newman

Rebecca Newman, MSW, LCSW is a Psychiatric Social Worker at Thomas Jefferson University Physicians Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, where she provides individual psychotherapy in Philadelphia, PA. Previously, Rebecca has worked as a Primary Therapist at The Renfrew Center and a Therapist the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Program, affiliated with Thomas Jefferson University, with further experience in violence intervention, Employee Assistance Program counseling, and drug and alcohol treatment research. Rebecca earned a BA from Oberlin College and an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received the John Hope Franklin Award for Combating American Racism. She specializes in working with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, grief and loss, LGBTQIA+ topics, trauma, and adjustment to life changes.

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1) In your experience, what are some effective routes through which you’ve seen healthcare students or professionals find help with their addictions?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Student Counseling Center are both well-equipped to support professionals and students with navigating treatment for their addictions. An employee could be formally referred to EAP for a performance issue stemming from an addiction, or a professional could self-refer for services if they are concerned about whether they have a problem. While neither an EAP nor a Student Counseling Center are equipped to provide treatment, they have relationships with local treatment providers at all levels of care (inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, outpatient) and can facilitate a referral.

2) For a HCP who needs help, what do you think their first plan of action should be?

If they have acknowledged the problem themselves, their first action step should be disclosing their problem to a trusted person who can help refer them for help and offer support. Many people feel ashamed that they’ve reached a point where they need help, and building a support network for recovery starts here. If another person has confronted the individual about the problem, they should still seek meaningful supports to join with them during this time.

3) What about for healthcare students? What’s the first step toward getting help?

The Student Counseling Center is often a good place to start for a student. The staff has good relationships with personnel on the academic side of the institution, like student deans, and can sometimes facilitate taking a leave of absence or a modified schedule/accommodations to support a student through their treatment.

4) What should healthcare professionals know about privacy and attending in-person meetings with a group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?

AA and NA are enduring sources of community-based support for people working towards or in recovery with organizational insistence on the crucial importance of anonymity. However, in the real world, people do have dual relationships – perhaps a healthcare provider in recovery could attend an AA meeting with one of their patients inadvertently! Finding a meeting that maintains your privacy, either from having patient contact or undesirable contact with other professionals, is important for building and maintaining the relationships you create in fellowship in AA/NA. Learning that a provider is in recovery may not necessarily detract from their credibility, after all, it takes a great deal of introspection and self-growth to maintain recovery, but it is difficult to maintain appropriate boundaries if patients, subordinates, or superiors are able to access that part of your personal life.

5) What should a student or professional know before entering school or a job in this field?

Understanding your relationship with coping, and particularly the roles that substances play, is essential to developing your identity as a healthcare provider. Many people end a workday with some version of “I need a drink!” Relying on something external, like drugs or alcohol, to relieve internal stress is an endless battle that will likely hinder your success. You will experience a great deal of stress and demand, both emotionally and physically, and learning appropriate, productive, and adaptive coping skills are important for a lasting career.