How doctors treat doctors with drug use problems: Addiction treatment that works

Physician Health Programs (PHP) are reporting an astonishing success rate when it comes to providing addiction treatment for addicted doctors:

  • Only about 20% of doctors ever test positive after being admitted to the program within a 5 year period.

  • More than 70% maintain their license and continue working within the same 5 year period.

These are the kind of addiction treatment results we want!

I’ve been saying for a long time that I believe in the theory promoted by Dr. McLellan, who is now the deputy-director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Doctor McLellan promotes a long-term view of addiction treatment, more like a chronic disease than anything that can be cured in a few months.

I’ve also known for a while that the American Medical Association is supposed to be having great success at addiction treatment for addicted doctors. I’ve been meaning to contact someone at the AMA to find out how they did it. Now I don’t need to thanks to this recent bit of addiction research.

Addiction research on treatment for addicted doctors

A recent research article surveyed the vast majority of PHP’s and found that, not surprisingly, the things that we know work in addiction treatment do indeed produce results. The solution may not be easy, but it’s pretty simple:

  • Early detection and assessment brings the addicted doctor, their family members, colleagues, and employers together. Getting the problem out in the open early makes it easier to deal with than having to be secretive about it. The doctors get  an option, leave the profession or sign up for a 5 year treatment program to deal with their addiction.
  • Formal addiction treatment using the most appropriate and effective treatment centers In contrast to our criminal justice addiction pipeline, the majority of physicians (69%) receive 90 day residential treatment, while the rest receive intensive outpatient treatment. The PHPs also receive frequent status reports on each physician in treatment to assure adherence.
  • Long-term support and monitoringAfter treatment, the physicians continue with aftercare that includes 12-step support, regular counseling meetings, and monitoring that includes random drug testing.

That’s it!  So simple yet so effective.

As addiction research continues to improve, I’m sure we’ll be able to bring these numbers up even higher than the 70% success rate currently reported. Still, you have to admit, 70% is amazing!!!

So if you want to know how to stop drinking and drugging, do like the doctors do and commit to long-term addiction treatment.

There are obvious differences between most addicts and the doctors in these programs (most people don’t have such a clear distinction between losing their livelihood and getting help), but the solution is most likely very similar.

More proof we need more money for addiction treatment:

We need to press our representatives to increase funding for addiction treatment and addiction research so that we can find the most efficient, yet effective, way to offer this kind of addiction treatment to the general population. By reducing the problems, we’d be able to cut into the $500 Billion a year drag addiction is putting on our economy. The effort will pay back for itself in no time.


DuPont, R.L., Carr, G., Gendel, M., McLellan, A.T., Skipper, G.E. (2009). How are addicted physicians treated? A national survey of physician health programs. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 37, 1-7.