Doctors who abuse prescription drugs often do so for "self-medication"-whether for physical or emotional pain or stress relief, reports a study in the October Journal of Addiction Medicine, the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.
Based on focus groups with physicians in treatment for substance abuse, the findings lend "unique insights" into the reasons why doctors abuse prescription medications-as well as important implications for prevention and recognition. The lead author was Lisa J. Merlo, PhD, MPE, of the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Physicians in Recovery Discuss Why They Abused Prescription Meds
In anonymous discussions, the researchers talked about reasons for prescription drug abuse with 55 physicians in recovery. The doctors were being monitored for substance abuse as part of their state's physician health program. Sixty-nine percent of the physicians had abused prescription drugs, in addition to alcohol and illicit drugs.
Of five major themes that emerged in the focus groups, three were related to "self-medication" using prescription drugs. The doctors reported using medications for self-treatment of:
Physical pain-Many physicians initially developed their drug habit while using medications prescribed for chronic pain after trauma or surgery.
Emotional pain and psychiatric symptoms-Some doctors found that prescription drugs finally gave them an effective treatment for " longstanding problems with anxiety or depression."
Work and life stress-The physicians commonly used medications to relieve stress related to their personal or professional life.
Like other substance abusers, many of the physicians said they also used drugs recreationally-to "get high." Others said they used prescription drugs to treat symptoms of drug withdrawal. For many doctors, as their addiction problem progressed, managing withdrawal became an increasingly important reason for drug use.
Findings May Help in Preventing and Recognizing Drug Abuse by Doctors