Anxiety and performance pressure have been cited as two of the primary reasons medical students turn to drugs and alcohol. Medical school can be challenging and stressful. The temptation to use substances such as opioids, stimulants, or alcohol to cope with pain or stay alert can be immense. However, self-medicating typically aggravates rather than helps the situation. Addiction treatment for medical students must address the specific needs of those in the medical profession who are in training as healers themselves.
Until recently, few verifiable studies had been done on the use of drugs and alcohol by medical students. In the past several years, though, researchers have found a high rate of alcohol and drug consumption among study participants who agreed to be forthcoming in their responses. In late 2015 and early 2016, 855 medical students representing 49 medical colleges throughout the US participated in an online survey. The results showed that:
- 3% of medical students consumed alcohol in the previous year
- 2% used marijuana in the previous year
- 8% consumed five or more drinks in one sitting in the previous two weeks.
Consequences of Substance Use
The same survey found that the consequences of alcohol and drug use included:
- Interpersonal altercations
- Serious suicidal ideation
- Cognitive deficits
- Compromised academic performance
- Driving under the influence of substances.
A Significant Problem
A separate study, conducted of all of Florida’s medical schools in 2017, found that:
- 8% of medical school students admitted to using marijuana at some point in their lives.
- Nearly a quarter (22.7%) of med students admitted to using marijuana during medical school.
- 9% of students surveyed admitted their prescription drug use increased during med school. Most (64.3%) admitted those prescriptions didn’t belong to them.
- 96% of medical students admitted to drinking alcohol. 6.7% of those students admitted they might have a drinking problem.
Over two-thirds of the participants in this study said they used opioids to relieve pain. Just under half used the drug “because parents or doctor told them to” and almost a fourth said it was to help them sleep. Nearly all of the participants, 90%, said they used a stimulant to help them study. About 65% said they used the stimulant to take an exam, and over a third said it was “because of the competitive nature of medical school.”
An aspect of one review study looked at the reasons that drive so many medical students to substance use and to addiction. They found several recurring themes:
- The stressful medical school experience, with long hours, lack of sleep, and a tendency towards unhealthy diets and little exercise which are among the very things that can make it more likely that a student will begin to use substances to cope.
- Extreme educational and professional goals. Many medical students tend to put a high degree of pressure on themselves to achieve their academic and professional goals and that pressure is considered to be another risk factor for a substance abuse disorder.
- The stress of patient care, one of the most rewarding and one of the most stressful experiences for medical students. This stress can lead to burnout over time, and burnout in turn can lead to the use of drugs as a way to cope.
- Reluctance to report or self–report. Many studies have noted that reluctance on the part of students to report on colleagues or of substance users to admit to their problem can easily allow the problem to continue untreated, putting both the student and their patients at risk.
- Emotional distress. Emotional distress related to life changes such as divorce or relocation was also found to predispose students towards substance abuse.
Addiction Treatment for Medical Students
When drug or alcohol use turns excessive and affects the medical student’s performance, it can become an addiction. Treating that addiction requires the appropriate approach and professionalism. At Providence Treatment, we offer medical students comprehensive support services through our Caduceus Academy. We know what medical students need, particularly those who have substance use disorders.
Our professional staff has the expertise needed to prepare medical students for a healthy entry into their new career of clinical practice. We help the whole student with strong academic preparation as well as working to identify and address underlying issues that may be interfering with their success. We address substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health issues, as well as learning issues.
At Caduceus, addiction treatment for medical students can include individual therapy, mindfulness training, empathy training, and biofeedback. We will also act as a liaison to the medical school. Our program is uniquely designed for medical students who need substance use and behavioral health evaluations and treatment.
Providence Offers HIPAA-Compliant TeleTherapy During COVID-19
At Providence Treatment, we are focused on helping professionals with addiction therapy, detox, medication management, and addiction treatment for medical students. We understand that seeking treatment can be a challenge, particularly during these uncertain times. We offer HIPAA-compliant telehealth services for addiction recovery support during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep everyone safe and healthy. Medical students and professionals can overcome addiction with outpatient treatment at Providence Treatment. If you need help, contact us at 484.469.9592.