Substance abuse by physicians

Other Names:
Drug abuse by health workers
Smoking by physicians
Alcohol abuse by doctors

Due to the unique stresses of a medical career (long hours, family pressures, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, exposure to diseases, lack of exercise) plus the easy access to pure drugs, many doctors are drug abusers. Doctors generally tend to ignore their own illnesses and when found out, there is not any specific counselling service or treatment available to them.


Physicians and nonphysicians who are depressed tend to self-medicate. Alcohol is the easiest and most available chemical used to try to treat depression. The flip side is that those who abuse alcohol often have a diagnosable depressive disorder. When there is a stigma associated with seeking psychiatric help or with taking antidepressants, the need to relieve symptoms often goes underground in the form of alcohol abuse.


The AMA estimated, in 1984, that at least 4,000 of the 500,000 doctors in the USA were addicted to drugs, opium and cocaine being the favourites. It also reported that the addiction rate for doctors in the USA is 30-100 times higher than in the general population.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
06.05.2019 – 18:05 CEST