Even though COVID-19 has affected the entire world, healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic have been especially impacted. Constant exposure to the virus alongside long hours, stress, exhaustion, burnout, and feelings of powerlessness have taken a toll on their physical and mental health. Some experts have even compared the daily conditions of healthcare workers to a war zone, which can include exposure to:
- A lack of supplies and personal protective equipment
- An inability to sleep
- Separation from family
- A hazardous and unstable environment
Unfortunately, all of these conditions can lead to self-medication, a dangerous and desperate attempt to escape, numb, and find temporary relief from uncomfortable and distressing situations. “There’s a sort of perfect storm of factors that we know increase drug [and alcohol] use,” Dr. William Stoops, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Kentucky, explained. “People are more stressed and isolated, so they make unhealthy decisions, including drinking more and taking drugs.” Sadly, healthcare workers are among many people who have turned to drugs and alcohol as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Healthcare Workers & The Pandemic: Physical, Emotional, and Psychological Stress
As a part of their occupation, healthcare professionals are trained to do all they can to improve the lives of their patients. In many ways, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has made healthcare workers feel as if their best hasn’t been good enough. This is especially true because COVID-19 is a relatively new virus with few treatments. Additionally, many healthcare professionals are the only people present when COVID patients pass away. The combination of these circumstances has substantially and negatively impacted workers in healthcare.
According to a 2020 survey conducted by Mental Health America, many healthcare workers felt as if they were stressed out and stretched too thin. Data from the survey revealed that:
- 93% of healthcare professionals were experiencing high levels of stress daily
- 86% of individuals working in healthcare experienced anxiety
- 77% of healthcare workers felt frustrated
- 76% of first line healthcare professionals experienced exhaustion and burnout
- 75% of individuals said they were overwhelmed
The survey also revealed that healthcare workers worried about exposing their loved ones to coronavirus. More than 75% of those surveyed worried about unintentionally infecting their child with COVID-19. About half were concerned about exposing their spouse or partner to the virus and 47% worried about exposing older adult family members to the virus. Unfortunately, their stress didn’t end there.
Healthcare workers with children reported feeling constant anxiety about not being able to spend quality time with their children. About half of the workers surveyed reported that the pandemic prevented them from being present parents.
Data from the survey also showed that COVID-19 left many healthcare workers physically and emotionally exhausted. Even though emotional fatigue was one of the most common consequences of the pandemic, healthcare workers also experienced:
- Insomnia and trouble sleeping (70%)
- Physical exhaustion (68%)
- Dread about going or returning to work (63%)
- Changes in their appetite (57%)
- Headaches and stomach aches (56%)
- Doubt about their career path and occupation (55%)
- Compassion fatigue (52%)
Nearly 40% of healthcare workers surveyed said they didn’t feel like they had adequate emotional support from their employers. Data from another survey indicated that 48% of healthcare professionals considered retiring, quitting their jobs, or changing their occupation because their mental health declined.
Research shows that this level of anxiety, stress, mental distress, and lack of support can, unfortunately, cause an increase in addiction among healthcare workers.
Healthcare Professionals and Addiction
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, an estimated 10 to 15% of all healthcare professionals will deal with addiction at some point in their career. Even though that percentage is about the same rate as the general public’s likelihood of addiction, other studies show that doctors and healthcare professionals are more likely than the average person to abuse prescription drugs such as opioids because of the stress of their job, long hours, and access to these highly addictive drugs.
Even though the type of misused drugs varies from person to person, trends among healthcare workers include:
- Emergency room doctors may more often misuse illicit drugs
- Psychiatrists may be more likely to abuse benzodiazepines
- Anesthesiologists have high rates of opioid abuse
- Nurses and nurse practitioners may abuse prescription stimulants
Unlike people who use drugs for recreational purposes, however, most healthcare workers use prescription drugs to:
- Manage physical pain
- Deal with emotional distress
- Cope with stressful situations
- Stay alert during an all-day or overnight shift
- Escape the emotional pain that comes from making hard, life-and-death decisions that have upsetting outcomes
Unfortunately, despite their vast knowledge about the risks associated with prescription drugs, many healthcare workers nonetheless find themselves grappling with addiction challenges.
Has COVID-19 Caused An Increase In Healthcare Worker Addiction?
Even though researchers continue to study the many ways COVID-19 has affected healthcare workers, some specialists do believe that the pandemic has increased addiction among healthcare workers.
Addiction specialists who treat healthcare workers say they saw an increase in mid-2020, with a dramatic increase in professionals needing help from November 2020 through January 2021.
The death of Dr. Lorna Breen, a top emergency room doctor in Manhattan, is a sobering example of this trend. Even though she had no history of mental illness, her father noticed that the last time he spoke with her she seemed detached. He said he could tell something was wrong as she described a number of patients who passed away before they could even be taken out of ambulances.
In his blog, addiction specialist Dr. Michael McCormick also talked about a nurse who lost control of her drinking as a result of the pandemic. “She was working long shifts in the hospital, dealing with COVID-19 patients. Then she would go home. She had isolated herself from her husband for fear of passing the virus on to him, so her time at home was spent alone, watching the news about the pandemic. Her anxiety skyrocketed…but [she] didn’t talk about her anxiety or fears. She would return home and watch the news, drinking more and more over time. She eventually reached a crisis point and reached out to Caron for help.”
Our treatment programs here at Soba Recovery can also help healthcare workers and other people struggling with addiction as a result of COVID-19.
Treatment Programs To Help Get Your Life, Health, and Family Back
Here at Soba Recovery, we provide a wide range of treatment techniques and activities that can help you recover from addiction. Our programs include:
- Evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing, emotional intelligence coping strategies, mindfulness, and medication assisted therapy (MAT).
- Additional services such as yoga, meditation, chiropractic care, nutrition and wellness, and acupuncture.
Regardless of your employment status or occupation, you don’t have to continue to let addiction control your life. We can help you overcome addiction and reclaim your life, health, and family. Let us help you live the sober life you deserve. Contact us today.