Substance Abuse Patterns and Psychiatric Symptomology Among Health Care Professionals and Non–Health Care Professionals Evaluated in an Outpatient Program for Impaired Professionals

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Abstract

Objectives:

To determine whether health care professionals (HCPs; n=94), evaluated in an outpatient-based program for impaired HCPs and professionals/executives, differed in terms of substance abuse patterns and psychiatric symptomology from their non–health care professional peers (N-HCPs; n=45).

Methods:

We compared the 2 groups on demographic variables, substance abuse patterns, reported histories of psychiatric comorbidity, and psychological test results using the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI).

Results:

The HCPs reported a higher frequency of having past problems with opioids, and also ranked opioids followed by alcohol as their preferred substances, whereas N-HCPs clearly preferred alcohol. The N-HCPs reported higher frequencies of a family history of addiction and mental illness. The N-HCPs reported higher frequencies of suicidal ideation, but there were no differences for past psychiatric history, medications, and health problems. Finally, N-HCPs reported higher PAI clinical scale scores in the moderate to severe ranges at 2 to 4 times the rates as HCPs for the majority of the scales.

Conclusions:

The HCPs were not significantly different clinically from their N-HCP peers in our program. We question whether specialized programs for impaired HCPs may contribute to feelings of uniqueness which is often cited in the literature as an obstacle to assuming a patient role. The rates of psychiatric comorbidity based on self-report compared with the PAI data support the need for use of psychological testing in the evaluation of impaired HCPs. Implications and suggestions given our findings among this group of HCPs are offered.

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