As a pharmacist, you’re responsible for prescribing the medications necessary to treat pain, illnesses, and chronic conditions. People depend on you for up-to-date, evidence-based information on how and when to use these medications, potential drug interactions, and any risks or side effects that could occur. To do this, you also need to know what other medications your patients are using currently, both legal and illicit. It’s an important responsibility that places people’s lives in your hands.
Working as a pharmacist also has its risks, including direct access to potent and addictive drugs. Unfortunately, nearly half of all pharmacists admitted that they have used medications that weren’t prescribed to them, with 20 percent of those reporting that they did so regularly.
This drug misuse is a significant problem, both for pharmacists and for the safety of their clients. It is important for pharmacists experiencing drug addiction to find rehab and addiction treatment assistance. It is also important for pharmacists to learn how to avoid relapsing, especially if they continue to work with addictive medications.
Addiction Risk Factors for Pharmacists
Work as a pharmacist may expose you to several factors that may put you at a higher risk for substance abuse and addiction.
First, you have access to a variety of addictive medications. Often, pharmacists who develop substance abuse disorders use medications they obtain at work.
Second, pharmacists often work long hours, which may make it difficult to take care of oneself. Perhaps you are experiencing chronic pain from being on your feet all day, but your work hours are keeping you from seeing a physician or physical therapist. Pharmacists in this situation sometimes turn to self-medication to cope with their chronic pain.
Finally, being a pharmacist may be stressful. You make life-altering decisions day after day. The decisions may place a great deal of responsibility on your shoulders. This stress and these duties may be compounded by your responsibilities at home and in the community.
Together, these factors increase the risk of substance abuse disorder in pharmacists. Adding to this, there is often stigma associated with substance abuse, even among pharmacists. This stigma may make pharmacists hesitant to seek assistance.
Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction
If you or someone you know thinks they might have a problem with prescription drug abuse, there are several signs that can indicate that it is time to get help.
Physically and mentally, a person may experience
- Euphoria (a feeling of being high)
- Nausea and/or poor appetite
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady walking
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Slowed breathing
- Poor coordination
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased alertness
- Paranoia or psychosis
- Increased anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- Excessive mood swings
- Difficulties with memory or decision-making
Their behavior may also indicate an addiction, especially if they are
- Increasing doses of their drugs to get the same effect
- Using medication not prescribed for them or using higher doses than prescribed
- Stealing medications or obtaining them without prescriptions
- Having difficulty paying bills or providing for their needs because they are spending money on drugs
- Forging prescriptions
- Requesting refills more frequently than prescribed
- “Losing” prescriptions and requesting new ones
- Combining prescription medications with illicit drugs or alcohol
- Visiting multiple doctors for the same medical condition
- Ignoring social obligations or recreational activities
- Making unusual mistakes at work
- Skipping work or arriving late
- Crushing or breaking pills
- Snorting or injecting medications designed to be swallowed
- Hiding medications in various locations
- Lying about drug use
- Demonstrating lower inhibitions and increased impulsiveness
It is almost certain that you did not set out to abuse drugs. Most people who struggle with addiction did not. Likely, you were attempting to fix a problem so that you could do your job and the situation spiraled out of control before you realized what was happening.
Remember that having a substance abuse disorder does not make you a bad person or a bad pharmacist. It means that you have a disease that needs to be treated.
Taking the First Step: Finding Help for Your Addiction
It may be difficult to take the first step and seek help for your prescription drug addiction. As a pharmacist, you know all too well the social and occupational ramifications of substance abuse. You may even deny that you have a problem.
Making the call and receiving assistance may help you find the road to recovery and live a clean life. Breaking free from your drug addiction may help you enjoy many more years in your career. It may help you feel better and create better relationships with your family, friends, and community.
Detox and Rehab: What to Expect
After you enter a rehab facility and the intake and assessment processes are complete, you will begin detoxification (detox) to remove drugs or alcohol from your system. This process will vary and depend on the substance you are detoxing from your body. For some substances, such as benzodiazepines, you must gradually reduce your doses to avoid complications.
As you undergo the detox process, you may begin to feel withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal may be uncomfortable and frustrating. In some instances, medication might be prescribed to help with the process and reduce your symptoms. Our trained professionals are there to help make your detox process as easy and comfortable as possible. It is important to work with addictions specialists who understand the withdrawal process so that you may detox safely and reduce the risk of using again.
You may find that your anxiety, depression, pain, or other physical or mental ailments increase during withdrawal. Often, when we self-medicate, we hide or suppress these symptoms, which may become more prominent during the withdrawal process. It is important to let your treatment team know about any new or bothersome symptoms you are experiencing so that they may help you address these issues.
During rehab, you will also attend group and individual therapy. During these sessions, you will receive support from your peers and your treatment team. You will also learn how to make healthy and safe choices and how to develop appropriate coping skills to deal with stressors.
In addition, you may participate in family therapy to help you mend and develop strong relationships with your family members. If you have children, even if they were temporarily removed from your home, they may also be invited to family therapy sessions.
Finally, during rehab, you will also likely receive treatment for any nutritional deficiencies, physical ailments, or mental health issues that developed because of your substance abuse.
Discharge and Recovery
Once you have successfully detoxed and attended therapy, your treatment team will decide when it is safe to begin transitioning back to the community. In your discharge planning, we will work with you, your employer, and licensing board to develop a plan for you to return to work if you choose to do so.
Because of the risks involved in working in an environment where you have access to the very prescription medications you may have abused, transitioning back to work might require additional steps and considerations. For example, your employer might require monitoring in the form of random drug tests. Your licensing board might require you to maintain contact with your counselor and support group. You might also be restricted during your recovery period regarding the types of medications you may dispense or be around without supervision.
The American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) offers a recovery assistance program that provides long-term monitoring and recovery support for pharmacists who have been treated for substance use disorders. The ASHP may require you to sign a contract stating that you agree to use its services for a certain number of years as a condition of reinstating your license.
Your discharge planning may work with you to ensure that you have housing that encourages sobriety and a strong support system to help you in your ongoing recovery. This may include regularly attending a support group and having a plan in place with family members or coworkers to help you return to treatment if needed.
How Do I Pay for Drug Addiction Treatment?
In many cases, your medical insurance will cover part or all of the cost for your drug abuse rehabilitation. Once you call us, we can speak directly to your insurance company to verify your benefits and let you know what your out-of-pocket costs will be.
Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction and Treatment for Pharmacists
What are the most commonly abused drugs by pharmacists?
While pharmacists, like anyone else, can become addicted to alcohol or any drug, their profession puts them in close contact with addictive substances such as cough syrup, benzodiazepines (benzos), and opioid pain killers. Easy access to these medications makes abuse and addiction more likely.
How does prescription drug abuse affect my ability to work as a pharmacist?
Prescription drug abuse, just like alcohol or illicit drug abuse, can impact your ability to make appropriate decisions. As a pharmacist, you likely make dozens, or even hundreds, of important choices every day. Each decision has the potential to heal or harm people. When your decision-making ability is impaired, there is a risk of making a life-threatening mistake when dispensing medications or giving advice.
What legal consequences could I face for my prescription drug abuse?
It is illegal to be drunk, high, or under the influence while at work if you are a pharmacist. This means that if you are caught or if someone is harmed and it can be traced back to your drug abuse, you could risk both jail time and losing your license. This means that it is important to find treatment for your addiction right away before you find yourself in legal trouble.
Will I lose my job if I seek treatment?
- monitoring to ensure your recovery and prevent a relapse. During treatment, it may be more difficult to continue working.
What will my day be like while I’m in rehab? Is it all just counseling and groups?
While inpatient drug rehab is organized and structured, it is not all counseling and groups. We want you to learn how to make healthy choices for your body and your life. This means that in addition to participating in groups, you will have the opportunity to choose recreational activities.
During a typical day, you enjoy a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the course of the day, you may meet with your therapist to discuss your progress or any concerns that you might have. You may participate in intensive treatment sessions and group meetings.
In addition to those sessions, meetings, and other activities, you may have free time to choose activities that you enjoy, including working with a personal trainer at the gym, getting a massage, practicing yoga or outdoor meditation, going on hikes, or taking in the beautiful views. Rehab is different for everyone and the best treatment centers create programs that suit the needs of each individual.
I have anxiety or depression in addition to my substance abuse disorder. Can I receive treatment for mental health conditions during rehab?
Absolutely! Mental health conditions alongside a substance abuse disorder is referred to as a dual diagnosis. At Mountain Springs Recovery, we provide rehab treatment options that specialize in dual diagnoses. We find that taking a holistic approach that addresses your addiction, as well as your mental and physical health, is the best way to help you achieve lifelong recovery.
I think I’m ready to defeat my addiction. When can I start?
Making the call to find help is often the hardest step. When you make the choice to live a clean life free from alcohol and drugs, we are ready to help you. Once you call, we can start the intake and assessment processes and place you on the road to healing.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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