Professional occupations often demand high levels of responsibility, accountability, and performance that separate them from other occupations. Physicians, pilots, attorneys, and various other professionals typically hold a license or official accreditation to practice in their field. They may own a business or be a member of their company’s executive team.
Doctors are famous for working incredibly long hours. “Residents in America are expected to spend up to 80 hours a week in the hospital and endure single shifts that routinely last up to 28 hours,” reported The Atlantic in 2017. On top of the grueling schedule, doctors frequently hold the lives of their patients in their hands—an incredibly stressful responsibility. The workload for lawyers doesn’t look a whole lot better, and their clients’ futures may also depend on their performance. Airline pilots are responsible for their passengers on long flights.
Alcohol and drug abuse among healthcare professionals is a prevalent method for handling the pressures of high expectations and work-related stress, or simply to help their brains wind down and get some relief at the end of a long day. The correlation between intense stress and substance abuse is well established. The more intense the stress, the greater the temptation to self-medicate the resulting emotional pain.
Should maladaptive coping skills lead to a substance use disorder, professionals, in particular, are inclined to believe for too long that they can continue to function normally despite their substance abuse. The concept of the “high-functioning” addict was prominently endorsed in a 2007 study by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The high functioning alcoholic played by Denzel Washington in the movie Flight comes to mind. Despite drinking and using cocaine, the pilot, Whip Whitaker, is able to land a plane in an emergency situation, saving all the passengers. Whitaker tricks himself into believing that he is in control of his drinking and drugging, but substance use while “high-functioning” is only the initial phase of the disease of addiction. The addict lives on borrowed time with potentially disastrous consequences. Since they don’t recognize the problem, they will not seek help early enough.
If you are working in a demanding and stressful environment, consider methods to reduce the stress that does not involve substance use. Take regular breaks during your workday, especially if it exceeds ten hours. Contrary to what many people believe, taking breaks at work may actually boost performance. You could also counter the stress with a meditation session at work.
The Forbes Coaches Council shares a recommendation by Job Sauce CEO Scott Swedberg to embrace gratitude on a daily basis. “Practice gratitude every morning, before email. Brainstorm three to four examples of something you’re grateful for, then take one big breath before tackling the day and you’ll overcome stress more easily.”
Exercise in almost any form can function as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your endorphins and your immune system. The experts at the Mayo Clinic call it “meditation in motion.” Many companies now offer yoga sessions or similar exercises during the workday to support the mental health of their staff.
Many of these stress-reducing methods are also important coping skills in recovery from addiction because reducing stress decreases the probability of relapse.
The inpatient drug and alcohol rehab for professionals at Lakeview Health is an addiction recovery program designed specifically for professionals—such as doctors, commercial airline pilots, lawyers, and executives of all industries—who need treatment for addiction. Like the inpatient rehab program at Lakeview, the professional program occupies the level of care between our medical detox and residential substance abuse treatment programs and serves patients with substance use disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders, and a history of trauma or posttraumatic stress.
Going through rehab with professional peers allows patients to share openly in a non-judgmental environment, accept personal responsibility without defensiveness, and develop the tools for personal growth and self-awareness needed for successful recovery, sobriety, and—ultimately—a safe return to work.
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