Becoming disabled from accidental injury accounts for only 10% of the reasons that dentists become disabled and unable to work. The other 90% are medical illnesses. An important diagnosis among those is substance or alcohol abuse/addiction. Yes, addiction is a medical problem and needs to be treated with respect as such.
It would be easy to concentrate efforts on those with cancer and other readily identifiable illnesses, but we will not overlook those suffering from the effects/pain of addiction. Addiction is a chronically relapsing brain disease. Brain imaging shows that addiction severely alters brain areas critical to decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control. This may explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.
What a dentist is addicted to matters, and the effects on dental practice can be profound and devastating for any addiction. Life doesn’t always go according to plan and understanding the risks and challenges is very important.
Dentists are more susceptible to addiction than other populations. Our practice environment is an enabler. Many dentists are sole proprietors. We are strongly independent and often isolated from our peers. Such isolation, coupled with long work hours focused on patient care leads to fatigue. Financial concerns along with competition only add to the stress that dentists deal with every day. We often see our peers as competitors instead of colleagues. This leads to further isolation and pressure.
Pressure manifests itself in various ways. We are under the constant stress of managing a small business and caring for our patents and staff. The communal expectations of success lead to additional stress. The practice of dentistry is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Crushing dental educational debt and practice debts can even affect the most strong among us. Many dentists are unhappy and not satisfied with their job. It is not surprising considering all they have to deal with every day.
As a result, many dentists look for ways to relax and avoid/escape their troubles. The dental office offers ways to escape. Drugs are readily available and dentists have simple access to a never-ending supply. Many dentists regularly gamble with addiction. You name the topic, and you can get addicted to it. For dentists and physicians their addiction rate is approaching 20%. Exposure to stress is one of the most powerful triggers of addiction in vulnerable individuals. Dentists are usually type A personalities with underlying behavior typical of successful individuals. That drive to succeed can lead to compulsive and controlling behavior. Dentists are vulnerable due to that behavior and it can allow addiction to progress and worsen.
Addiction can be treated with the right mix of behavioral therapy and medication. Personal support can help addicted people navigate the road to recovery. No one gets through this alone. Seeking out friends,family, and even our peers is critical to survival. Support groups are also an extremely valuable tool in rehabilitation and need serious commitment. Seeking help of an addiction professional is very important. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has certified physicians and treatment centers that are ready to help. All treatment and steps taken are confidential and the dentist must agree to any treatment.
The ADA has a Dentist Health and Wellness Program. This program can act as an advocate on the behalf of addicted dentists and help in recovery. Dentists and physicians tend to make poor patient’s at first. We want to be in control, but just must understand that we are the patient now. Dental professionals have their pride and egos to protect, and they are used to being in charge. Dentists often exhibit extreme denial of symptoms. We have a hard time letting our guard down.
The recovery rate for dentists who receive appropriate treatment is about 90% for health care professionals. Dentists become highly motivated once they realize that their license is at risk. Not only their licenses, but their livelihood and whole identity. Everything depends on getting well. WE are talking life and survival here. VERY SERIOUS STUFF.
WELL-BEING PROGRAMS have emerged as a primary tool in helping all disabled dentists, -especially those with addiction. There are three kinds of well-being programs in dentistry. Peer assistance programs, diversion programs, and multi-disciplinary programs are the primary ones. These three differrent programs help direct and guide impaired dentists in treatment. They are often directed by individual states each with its own requirements. Adequate treatment with professional monitoring give the highest rate of success.
The combination of effective treatment followed by five or more years of structured, accountable monitoring is a key to success in the long run. There are relapse factors that include a strong family history of addiction, psychiatric disorder history, and prior relapse history. The more of these factors that an individual demonstrates, the greater the risk of relapse. Left untreated, addiction is fatal. It will kill you and you will take a lot of people with you. Addiction is a disease and treatment is available. It is not a “do-it-yourself” project. Don’t try to dig yourself out; alone you will only dig deeper. “I’LL DO THIS MYSELF” ARE FAMOUS LAST WORDS.
Rewards of recovery include returning to active dental practice and a heightened appreciate for life. Treatment in intense, but no more difficult in your experiences in dental school. You survived there, and you can meet the challenges ahead. Live a full life and use your network of friend and family to survive. Live an enriched life and take the time to help others in the future who will gain life from your experiences. You will be rewarded both personally and professionally.
WHAT CAN YOU DO NOW?
Ask for help before you are reported to the police or your state dental board. You have a lot of eyes on you and your luck will run out. Speak to your spouse, minister, family and friends. You could have cancer , instead you have an addiction. THEY ARE THE SAME, YOU HAVE AN ILLNESS.
CALL YOUR PHYSICIAN AND SEEK TREATMENT. Your physicians and medical professionals will take it from there. You are disabled and look to our recommendations on disability to protect your practice. TEN STEPS TO SURVIVE DISABILITY Call your disability insurance company and consider making a claim. You have an illness and may be entitiled to benefits. Contact your state dental association an ask for information on their well-being program. You likely will be protected if you self-report yourself and cannot lose your license. You will be required to undergo treatment and it will be treated with respect as a medical problem. You have legal protection if you are proactive and honest.
WE ARE DENTISTS HELPING OTHER SICK AND INJURED DENTISTS, WE CARE.