Addiction In Healthcare Professionals And First Responders

Healthcare professionals and first responders include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, EMTs, firefighters, and police officers. Exposure to high-stress environments and traumatic events is common for people working in these fields. It can be difficult for healthcare professionals and first responders to cope with these high-stress events as they often have little time or resources for self-care and healing.

Healthcare professionals and first responders often have difficulty balancing work and personal life due to the demands of their line of work. Since the start of the pandemic, healthcare environments have become even more taxing, and healthcare professionals are more vulnerable to mental and physical exhaustion from chronic workplace stress than ever before. In 2021, a Washington Post/Kaiser Foundation survey found that 55% of front-line first responders reported burnout.

The constant exposure to traumatic and taxing events without the appropriate time to process, extra-long work hours, and work-life imbalance affects healthcare professionals and first responders emotionally and mentally. As a result, many experience depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts. 

To deal with these issues, some first responders and healthcare professionals turn to substance use as a coping mechanism. Because of the unique stressors and challenges that healthcare professionals and first responders face, there is a specific need for specialty 12-step groups that offer support and guidance for those recovering from or experiencing substance abuse in the healthcare field.

The Benefits Of Specialized 12-Step Groups And Programs

Specialized 12-step groups and treatment programs are available for healthcare professionals and first responders nationally and internationally. These specialized groups and programs are essential because they provide an outlet for those who share common concerns, struggles, and experiences. Some other benefits of these groups include: 

  • Increased trust and engagement.
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety.
  • Increased understanding and empathy. 
  • Feelings of acceptance and fellowship.

Caduceus groups are examples of specialty support groups aimed toward medical professionals. A caduceus group is a 12-step group for medical professionals to receive peer-to-peer support and guidance during their recovery from substance use. Often less formal than a traditional 12-step meeting, caduceus groups can serve as a transitional step toward involvement in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).  

Healthcare professionals are more inclined to share in a group structure where they are receiving support from other medical professionals because they tend to feel less judged and more supported by those struggling with similar issues. The International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous (IDAA) website is dedicated to doctorate-level healthcare professionals and those in training for those degrees, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified registered nurse anesthetists. 

Healthcare professionals can find support groups tailored to their needs on the IDAA website. For example, caduceus group meeting times and locations can be found on the IDAA website. Moreover, treatment centers throughout the US have created specialized 12 step-programs for healthcare professionals, first responders, and military personnel.

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Stigma And Standards Towards Addiction In The Medical Field

Some view substance use disorders (SUDs) as a weakness, a moral shortcoming, or a result of selfishness. This stigmatization of addiction negatively affects individuals regardless of their careers; however, for those in the medical field, this stigma could threaten their jobs, reputations, and even their likelihood of reaching out for help in the first place. This stigma seems pronounced when it involves people whose career includes helping others. For example, some people may hold doctors to a higher moral standard due to the nature of their work. As such, if a doctor has an addiction, their character may be scrutinized more than if they were in another profession.

Regardless of stigma and job titles, the reality is that addiction does not discriminate. The age, race, religion, or career a person has does not matter. Specialty 12-step groups aim to address the multi-faceted issues that medical professionals and first responders face.

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Healthcare professionals are more cautious about seeking help for substance use for fear of losing their professional license or jobs. It is a common belief and myth that doctors and other healthcare professionals are unaffected by substance abuse issues. This belief may be because most people hold healthcare professionals and first responders to higher standards. Living up to these standards makes it more challenging for these professionals to seek help if substance use becomes an issue. Even when individuals seek help, they are cautious about what they will share for fear of ruining their reputation or being judged.

Taking Care Of Healthcare Professionals And First Responders

Although healthcare professionals and first responders constantly help others, sometimes they struggle with reaching out for help. It is easy for those in the healthcare field to overlook their own needs when they are trained to care for and prioritize the health of those around them.

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When one neglects their needs or lacks the resources to rest and process stressful events, they may turn to self-medicating with substances to cope. For these reasons, specialized 12-step groups are an essential aid for healthcare professionals and first responders experiencing substance abuse.

As aforementioned, individuals looking for specialty support groups for medical professionals and first responders can find meeting times and locations on the IDAA website. Some groups even offer virtual meetings. These support groups and programs on the website are independent groups and are not directly affiliated with the IDAA.

Connect With Resources Today

Beyond stand-alone specialty support groups and programs, treatment centers also offer unique programs to treat medical professionals and first responders. Receiving support and help for substance misuse is nothing to be ashamed of, and there is a lot to be gained from being in a support group with those facing similar challenges. Contact a treatment provider today for more information on treatment center options. 



Amber Biello-Taylor

Photo of Amber Biello-Taylor
  • Amber Biello-Taylor is a Certified Addiction Professional and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Florida with over 10 years of experience in the addiction treatment field. Biello-Taylor has received training in EMDR and neurofeedback; and has worked in inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment settings, medication maintenance programs, and addiction treatment programs in correctional facilities. Biello-Taylor has worked with diverse populations, including military veterans, inmates, and individuals of all ages, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. She has worked in facilities that take the 12-step approach and other facilities that offer a more holistic approach to treatment.

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