Addictions affect people from all walks of life, from mechanics to schoolteachers to artists. But while people in many professions can ask their employer about taking time off from work to deal with a substance use disorder, the question of addiction treatment becomes much more complicated if you are a professional working in a field that requires a license.
Just as many lawyers, doctors, nurses and pilots become addicted to substances as people working in unlicensed fields. However, they may be more afraid to admit they need help with an addiction, because they may fear losing their license and damaging their job prospects in future.
Addicts are notorious for seeking short-term fixes, which is why it is often so difficult for them to ask for help dealing with their problem. Many doctors with alcoholism have turned to prescribing themselves medications to counter the effects of alcohol withdrawal, just as many attorneys have relied on their salary to buy drugs to keep them functional for just a bit longer.
But ultimately, addiction is a progressive disorder, and no matter how many times you cover it up, eventually no short-term fix can deal with the way an addiction can consume you. The signs of addiction start to show physically as substances take their toll on your body, and mentally as you start to crumble inside.
People who have been addicted for a longer period of time tend to engage in increasingly risky behavior and eventually it is likely that even the best liar will be caught or that the addiction will show itself through some dreadful mistake at work.
The reason that certain jobs require licenses is that they carry a huge responsibility for the lives of other people – and mistakes in these professions can even be fatal. The more quickly professionals get help, the less likely it is that their addiction will cause them to cause harm and the more likely it is that they can safely get back to work once in recovery.
It’s Not the End of the World
People who hold powerful positions may feel guilty about their addiction because they know the responsibility they have been given. They may feel that they should have known better, being an educated, respected person, not realizing the role that genetic predisposition often has to play in addiction. They may fear that they will never work in the same field again if they confess to struggling with substances.
But asking for help for an addiction is not the end of a professional career. Indeed, there is even specialized help available that takes into account these professional’s specific situations and their need for anonymity, while also ensuring that they complete rehabilitation and become able to do their job again.
In all professions, it is far better to seek help before suspicious colleagues pick up on any issues and before any substance-related incidents at work occur. However, should it be too late for that, the focus of licensing boards tends to be to rehabilitate and monitor the professional in question, rather than immediately revoke their license.
Medical professionals with an addiction can generally either self-refer or be sent by a licensing board to a Physician Health Program (PHP), which, after assessment, will refer them to abstinence-based treatment. The PHP will then monitor the doctor, testing for drugs and alcohol when they return to practice and submit regular reports to the licensing board.
In the first stage, the medical professional must sign a contract to agree to treatment, long-term support and monitoring – usually over four to five years. Relapses tend to result in reevaluation and intensification of treatment, rather than a license being revoked.
Pilots are unlikely to be able to hide an addiction for very long, since drug and alcohol testing is required of aviation employees by several Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) regulations. Pilots must also pass a medical examination, which includes parts designed to pick up on substance use disorders.
If a pilot does develop a problem, the best thing to do is to enter a specialized rehabilitation program as soon as possible and keep all the documentation relating to treatment. To be considered for medical certification, the FAA usually requires complete abstinence for two years after the discovery of a drug or alcohol problem. However, it will consider re-certification after only one year of recovery if the pilot can provide evidence of successful abstinence-based treatment and agrees to ongoing monitoring.
This means supplying the FAA with treatment records and discharge summaries, undergoing an evaluation by an addiction professional, participation in aftercare, testing and a professional supervision program for at least 12 months.
A lawyer who is not under investigation may voluntarily enter a lawyer assistance program (LAP) confidentially, or this can be requested by an employer or licensing board. Most LAPs will assign a case manager, require attendance at weekly meetings and abstinence from both alcohol and drugs.
An evaluation committee will periodically make recommendations on a case-by-case basis. Often a lawyer who has an addiction will be encouraged to attend a treatment program, and then be alcohol and drug tested for a set period — five years is common.
Treatment for Licensed Professionals
For lawyers, doctors, pilots and other professionals, there are specialized rehabilitation programs that are designed to help people who seek confidentiality and comprehensive care for their situations, like the professionals program at Talbott Recovery.
Customized treatment plans for professionals can ensure they have the best chance to start a new life in recovery and continue their career. They can help professionals gain all the benefits of recovery without losing anything except their addiction.
Written by Beth Burgess