Doctors' health and fitness to practise: treating addicted doctors

Occup Med (Lond). 2008 Aug;58(5):334-40. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqn081.


The literature describing the diagnostic process in the addicted doctor is scant. Figures from North America indicate that the prevalence of alcohol problems in doctors may be no higher than in the population as a whole, whereas high rates of prescription drug use have been recognized. This practice of self-treatment with controlled drugs is a 'unique concern' for doctors. The development of substance misuse problems in doctors cannot be reduced to a single factor: Anxiety and depression, personality problems, stress at work, family stress, bereavement, an injury or accident at work, pain and a non-specific drift into drinking have been implicated. Early diagnosis is critical because doctors are often reluctant to seek help and colleagues reluctant to intervene. Medical schools and continuing medical education programmes must give greater emphasis to addiction and substance misuse in doctors with a view to reducing the incidence of 'impaired physicians' and promoting and encouraging early treatment and rehabilitation. The relationship between the addiction psychiatrist and the occupational physician is key given that these problems occur at the interface between occupational health and regulatory systems. The need for individually tailored back to work programmes requires careful coordination and monitoring and may be difficult to implement without their involvement. Generally, the prognosis for doctors' recovery is good and it is possible to predict which doctors will 'make it'.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Medicine*
  • Physician Impairment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*