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Substance Abuse Among Hospital Staff

, Substance Abuse Among Hospital Staff

The modern hospital is at times overwhelming: hundreds, perhaps thousands of patients tended to by several different hospital staff, patient admission and release, rehabilitative programs, thousands of medications interacting in innumerable ways. Most modern hospitals also have long shifts for hospital staff, including doctors and nurses, to minimize the number of times per week incoming staff must be brought up to speed regarding new treatments and progress changes for their patients.


While long shifts may increase overall efficiency, they often do so at the expense of the physical health and emotional stability of hospital staff. When doctors, nurses, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are on-call for dozens of hours at a stretch, fatigue takes its toll. Hospital staff, particularly those who must function with a high level of mental focus, may be tempted into substance abuse in order to meet the demands of their job. Stimulants and prescription drugs like Adderall have found their way into hospitals worldwide by virtue of the hospital pharmacy and many employees may be tempted into substance abuse by a combination of chronic stress, trouble sleeping, and the ready availability of many different prescription drugs.


As a healthcare professional, first talk to superiors and colleagues about balancing your sleep and work schedules. Veteran medical professionals will often have advice about particularly busy times during the year, and will be able to contextualize this information locally for you. Additionally, it is important to distinguish between problems with your sleep cycle and a job that does not permit adequate sleep. If you find that your healthcare industry job frequently exhausts you but you still have trouble sleeping, it may be time to seek medical attention. The hormonal chemistry governing our sleep schedules can become skewed with frequent shift changes or excessively long shifts, so light sleep medication may be necessary. Be certain not to abuse this medication, however, and take only as directed. Heavy doses may inhibit your body’s natural production of sleep cycle hormones, which will further increase your trouble sleeping over the long-term.


Perhaps even more importantly, look out for your fellow healthcare professionals. If you see them exhibiting strange behavior (overreactions, excessive irritability, frequent unexplained absences), talk to them. The chaotic environment of the modern hospital is such that employees may feel emotionally isolated, as though they are struggling with their problems alone, despite being surrounded by coworkers and patients. Remember that treatments for substance abuse, in the form of detoxification, rehabilitation, and psychotherapy, are always available.

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