From alcohol to cocaine to pain pills -- tens of millions of Americans deal with addiction every day. It costs the U.S. $600 billion a year in lost productivity, crime, and healthcare. So, what happens when healthcare providers become addicts?

It’s the focus of shows like Nurse Jackie and House MD.  Both are examples of art imitating life.

Marc Myer, MD is the director of a health care professionals' addiction program at Hazelden.  Every year, 250 doctors and nurses from around the U.S. go there for help. He says one in ten doctors will face addiction at some point in their lives with alcohol being the number one drug of choice.

After that, “the other substances of choice are different and that mainly has to do with access,” said Myer.

Myer says health care professionals’ consumption rate of opioids, like Valium and Oxycodone, is five times greater than the general population.  Sometimes they even divert medications from patients.

“The medication or drug is kept for personal use,” Myer said.

Doctors and nurses who do seek help, “notoriously have a very difficult time taking on the patient roll. We work very hard on getting people to face their guilt and shame and realize that they can recover,” Myer explained.

Myer says the sobriety rate after treatment for the general population is 50 percent.

“For health care professionals, the three to five year abstinence rates are as high as 90 percent,” Myer said.

Myer believes that’s because if they don’t get better they could lose their medical license, but many do return to patient care.  Myer knows this first hand.

“Before I ran the program, I went through the treatment program here. I’m a recovering opiate addict myself,” Myer explained.

He’s been clean for four years. Now, his patients are his peers.

Myer says addicted doctors and nurses in recovery may face some new circumstances at work after treatment.  For instance, they might have restrictions on what hours they work and limited or no access to controlled substances.

Myer says because the success rate among recovering health care professionals is so high, experts are trying to figure out what elements of the program can be applied to treatments for the general population.

Additional Information:

The word addiction is used in several ways.  One definition describes physical addiction.  This refers to the biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so the drug no longer has the same effect, also known as tolerance.  Because people develop tolerance, there is a biological reaction when the drug is withdrawn.  Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs, or cues associated with the drug.  For example, when an alcoholic walks into a bar, they will feel an extra pull to have a drink because of the cues.  However, most addiction problems are not related to physical tolerance or exposure to cues.  People use drugs, gamble, or shop compulsively almost always in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have an addiction.  These psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects; they explain why people frequently switch addictive types of drugs. (Source:

DOCTORS:  It is easy to believe that your doctor maintains perfect health, but some definitely do not.  One in ten physicians develops a problem with alcohol or drugs at some point during their careers.  Those who admit they have an addiction to alcohol or drugs, as well as those who get reported, have to go through an intense substance abuse program before they can practice medicine again.  Most physician health programs are pretty effective, helping close to 80 percent of doctors recover, and last 90 days.  That is three times longer than addition programs for the general population.  (Source:

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR DOCTOR IS IMPAIRED?  Since drug and alcohol abuse in doctors are not as rare as we wish, it is possible you may encounter one someday.  Dr. Wesley Boyd at Harvard Medical School gives some pointers to watch out for.  He said you might suspect a substance abuse problem if your doctor: