Why You Should Come Forward
Hospital workers are in a high-risk profession for drug addiction due to the stressful work environment and increased exposure to drugs. Drug addiction is not always caused by substance abuse, but could be caused by mental health problems, a lack of social support, or the perception that one can’t find a better job.
The statistics for drug abuse among hospital staff are alarming and show no sign of slowing down. As an example:
- In the United States, 100,000 doctors, nurses, technicians and other health professionals struggle with abuse or addiction
- Research composed from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that around 6% of healthcare workers use illicit drugs regularly
Should you admit your own substance abuse?
What Is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse is a term for any use of intoxicating substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Drug addiction is the condition of being dependent on a particular substance, most often an illicit one.
The Damaging Effects of Substance Abuse
Studies have shown that substance use can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts in people who work in hospitals. It can also lead to an increase in emergency room visits due to accidents on the job caused by impaired judgment. In addition, workers who use drugs may experience sleep difficulties, which could lead them to poor performance and lack of attention at work – putting patients and colleagues at risk.
Substance Abuse – The Warning Signs
It is important for hospital staff to understand the signs of substance abuse in patients, peers, and themselves, and how they can affect a person’s behavior – including their own.
Classic signs of substance abuse include both physical and psychological ‘symptoms’, such as developing withdrawal symptoms and anxiety. Common signs of substance abuse include:
- Changes in their mood including anger, agitation, anxiety, depression, apathy, and irritability
- Changes in sleeping patterns such as appearing tired all the time or not being able to sleep at all
- Withdrawal from family and friends including a loss of interest in hobbies or activities they previously enjoyed and used as an escape
If you allow substance abuse to develop into addiction, you may notice a change in spending habits, relationships, or even how you behave on social media. Physical changes include:
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Weight fluctuation
- Being too hungry or too full
- Changes in appearance like looking older or more tired than usual
- Shaking hands or tremors when walking
If you notice any of these signs within yourself, you should take time to analyze your habits and identify if you have developed a substance abuse problem. It may be something innocuous like drinking too much coffee. It could be something worse, like an addiction to prescription drugs, or dependence on recreational drugs.
With greater knowledge and understanding of the issues involved, there is less stigma around the problems of substance abuse. We now recognize that early intervention is key.
Therefore, you should speak to your boss and discuss your own substance abuse – not only for yourself, but for the safety and wellbeing of all those around you.
What Help Can You Get?
Many hospital workers are not aware of the addiction services that may be available to them, especially through their employer. To qualify for these services, you must meet several criteria and provide supporting documentation.
If you are currently employed at an institution that offers health coverage benefits, it is advisable to contact your human resource department to find out what addiction services may be available to you. They will have all the information you need about qualifying for coverage. This includes whether your mental health or substance abuse treatment will be covered by insurance.
Could You Get Fired?
There are protections for staff from being fired for substance abuse. This is predominantly provided by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
FMLA is a federal law that provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave annually for their own health and wellness, or the ongoing care of a family member with a serious health condition. This law also allows you to receive protection from being fired for rehabilitating yourself from substance abuse.
In addition to this, the law states that employers must offer the employee ‘the same coverage under its own group health plan at the same level as if the employee had continued to work’. This means that if an employer offers benefits such as medical and dental insurance or life insurance, they are required by law to continue offering those benefits during time off due to medical reasons.
Do the Right Thing for You and Others
In the hospital environment, substance abuse can be an easily accessible and a strong distraction. This becomes a problem when it becomes addictive and influences the skills of a professional.
Some hospitals are looking into using drug tests to recognize possible substance abuse among employees. This would help them identify which staff members would benefit from assistance to get back on track.
Hospital workers should understand that substance abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, including themselves. That is why it is vital for hospital staff members who are struggling with addiction, or have experienced a traumatic event, to admit to their abuse, and seek out professional help right away, to keep their jobs and avoid relapse.
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