When addicted physicians relapse

July 1, 2005

While programs are available to treat and monitor health-care professionals who have abused alcohol or drugs, identifying the risk factors that could lead to relapse may provide useful guidance to ensure successful recovery.

While programs are available to treat and monitor health-care professionals who have abused alcohol or drugs, identifying the risk factors that could lead to relapse may provide useful guidance to ensure successful recovery. A recent retrospective study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (3/23–30/05) sought to identify the risk factors associated with relapse.

Using 11 years of data from a Washington-based post-treatment program for health-care professionals with substance abuse disorder, researchers found that the risk of relapse increased among those who used a major opioid, had a co-existing psychiatric disorder, or a family history of substance abuse. A previous relapse, along with the presence of more than one of these risk factors, also increased the chances another relapse would occur.

The researchers also found that the risk of relapse decreased the longer the clinician stayed in the treatment program. Such treatment programs-also known as physician health programs (PHPs)-are available in many states and are used as alternatives to monitoring by medical boards. Physicians can anonymously receive guidance in dealing with an impaired colleague by contacting a regional PHP at http:// http://www.fsphp.org/.