healthcare burnout

COVID-19 Has Put a Burden on Our Healthcare Workers Who May Turn to Substances

Working in the healthcare field is stressful. All levels of healthcare workers, such as doctors, nurses, and support staff, have to manage stress every day. Some areas of the healthcare field, like ER doctors and nurses, have a very high level of stress to deal with.

During the COVID-19 era, the public has become very aware of just how stressful working in healthcare is. Burnout is a common issue during these trying times. Long hours, a novel virus, and intense measures needed to protect themselves from the virus all factor in. News reports display healthcare workers stressed out and struggling during the Covid nightmare.

As with many people under stress, the burned-out healthcare worker is more prone to using a substance. The healthcare worker may rely on drugs or alcohol to help them manage the intense stress levels. Not only the stress, but also their sadness within a workplace where there is so much pain and death.

It is important that our healthcare workers are offered the treatment services needed to move beyond a substance use disorder.

What is Burnout?

All jobs have certain aspects of them that are hard and stressful. No one would argue that the stress level is very high in the healthcare field now with Covid. When someone feels their workload is more than they can manage they can become burned out.

Burnout happens when we become so tired and fatigued that we just check out mentally. This chronic stress leaks into all aspects of life, and saps your strength. As of now, burnout is called a “syndrome” and not yet labeled a disorder. It can, though, morph into an anxiety disorder or depression later.

Although COVID-19 will not last forever, at the moment it may see it will. Healthcare workers need to pay heed to their mental state and get help if needed. If not, unaddressed burnout can lead to a substance use problem.

How Prevalent is Addiction Among Medical Professionals?

Healthcare workers struggle with substance misuse at about the same rate as the public. a report in USA Today, more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, and other health professionals have addiction issues, most involving opioids.

When it comes to opioids, though, doctors have a higher rate of opioid abuse. In fact, research shows that, out of 55 physicians studied with substance use disorders, 60% misused prescription pain meds.

Nurses also have high rates of substance abuse. The Journal of Clinical Nursing reports about 20% of all nurses struggle with a substance use problem. The rates are highest for nurses in oncology (42%), the mental health field (40%), and critical care (38%).

Why Do Healthcare Workers Turn to a Substance?

The reason why healthcare workers may have higher rates of opioid misuse is simply the access they have to the drug. Some doctors may self-prescribe, which is when a doctor just prescribes the drugs to him or herself. About 87% of doctors self-prescribe. Many medical workers admit to this as the beginning of the drug abuse.

Work stress is another reason for the need for taking the drugs. Lack of sleep, the stress of the job, and increased exposure to death and suffering are all involved. Some healthcare workers may self-medicate for mental distress or trauma disorder.

Nurses Have the Most Access to Drugs

Nurses are so valuable to us all. They handle so much and work very long hours, but sometimes they are taken for granted. Being under chronic stress like they are during COVID-19 can take a huge toll. This can tempt a nurse to self-medicate with drugs that they can access at work.

Nurses have the most hands-on exposure to drugs in the healthcare setting.  They are the ones getting the drugs to the patients.  There are some signs that a nurse might be diverting the medications for their own use, such as:

  • Taking frequent bathroom breaks
  • They offer to dispense meds to other nurse’s patients
  • They arrive early and leave late, or come in on days off
  • They sign out meds for patients who had already been discharged
  • Patients complain of unrelieved pain despite the correct pain meds being prescribed
  • There are errors in paperwork for controlled substance dispensing

How Burnout Among Doctors and Nurses Can Impact Care

During COVID-19 our healthcare workers are dealing with immense stress loads. There is no doubt that doctors and nurses who are using a substance are risking addiction. They may also be placing the wellbeing of their patients at risk.

Healthcare workers who are impaired on the job can inflict serious harm on a patient. This can happen due to the effects of the drug. These include slowed motor skills, trouble focusing on a procedure, or hand tremors.

Our healthcare workers need to get help for burnout when it occurs. They need extra care during these very trying times. Getting mental health care early on will prevent substance abuse later.

Addiction Treatment for Healthcare Workers

Doctors are able to seek treatment for a substance use disorder with their privacy protected. They do not have to disclose the problem to the board or colleagues. Most will choose a treatment program in a remote setting that values privacy.

Treatment begins with a detox, usually lasting about one week. Once detox is done, the healthcare worker will enter into the active treatment program. This will include:

  • One on one therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Addiction education.
  • Treatment for a coexisting mental health issue or mood disorder.
  • 12-step program
  • Holistic therapies like yoga, meditation, and massage.

Healthcare workers are at high risk of relapse due to their daily handling of drugs in their work setting. A doctor who has reported the substance use disorder to the physician health program will be observed for five years after treatment. This will include random drug testing and workplace surveillance, which can deter relapse. With these measures in place, the healthcare worker can move forward in their career safely helping others.

LifeSync Malibu Treats Burnout and Substance Use Disorders

LifeSync Malibu is a luxury recovery center that offers the most up to date treatment methods. If you are a healthcare worker who is struggling during COVID-19, do not wait to get the help you need. Call today for more details about our program at (866) 491-4426.