Our Local Neighborhood Newspaper, The Acorn…
The Acorn recently ran an article noting that alcohol use was on the rise among physicians, nurses and teachers. They could have added that drinking levels have increased in about any demographic you can imagine.
Still, healthcare workers and teachers are especially hard hit, partially because they can’t take time off to get help and if they do they will be severely penalized.
Most states and Canadian provinces have what are known as Physician Assistance Programs which are supposedly voluntary ways to get help with a drinking problem. However, once you “volunteer” your career and your life are over for all practical purposes – even more so for nurses who lack the resources to fight back that some physicians have.
So, what happens?
You report that you’re having some problem self-medicating with alcohol. You are referred (not voluntarily) to a rehab program for “assessment” and immediately told you are an alcoholic in need of 30 days of residential treatment at a cost of – including lost income – of roughly $250,000. You object, saying you aren’t an alcoholic, but simply drinking a little more than you are comfortable with. Now you are an “alcoholic in denial” and require 60 days of rehab. Object again and it’s 90 days.
Even if you agree to bite the bullet and complete the useless 30 day “program” you will have a restricted license, work under the supervision of that supposedly voluntary program, and be referred back for additional treatment any time the rehab center needs to fill a bed or the program needs another kickback from the rehab center.
Typically, these programs, or licensing board heads receive kickbacks of anywhere from 10% – 30% of the rehab programs fee. Usually in cash.
Once started down that road you are doomed for the rest of your career.
Fight the unjust labeling and extortion? Forget it. No lawyer will take the case.
So what happens? Boxed in, without access to help, conscientious professionals choose suicide which offers some compensation to their families. It’s a choice similar to the one described in the following article which demonstrates another version of the problem as well as a solution.
A Lesson Learned on Kodiak
In 1991 a senior Coast Guard officer appeared at my door. I was surprised, to say the least.
“I hear,” he said, “that you know something about alcohol use and suicide.”
That was also an unexpected opening line.
“I know a fair amount about alcohol use and the various results,” I said.
“We have a problem at the base,” he said. “And nothing I say can leave this room and, if asked, I will deny I was ever here, ever met you, or even know who you are.”
That was starting to sound like one of the novels I read to wile away a rainy afternoon, which Kodiak has in abundance.
“The suicide rate among officers has reached levels that can no longer be ignored. We want to know why and what can be done about it. It has to stop!”
I had heard about the problem from a friend on the base so I’d had some time to think about it and do a bit of research as well.
“The problem is,” I said, “that the officers, as they should be, are overly conscientious.”
“That’s a problem?”
“It is when relief from all the pressure, including spouses unhappy about the isolation here, and young children to consider, has officers finding respite in drinking. But then the drinking becomes an added stressor. And there is no help available.”
“We have an office that provides help.”
“You have an office – they don’t provide help that’s appropriate or effective. Besides, once identified as “alcoholic” the officer in question is quietly discharged, shipped out along with his or her family, and dumped back in the lower 48 with no prospects of ever having a career again.”
“Hmmm, all you want. The officer really only has two choices: sign up for help and end up discharged, career and marriage destroyed, or commit suicide in which case their family will be taken care of. What choice do you suppose a conscientious spouse and parent is going to make?”
We wrangled over details, briefly.
“So what do you suggest?”
“Let it be known that there is confidential help available that will not report back to the base. Since it’s a temporary problem that can be permanently fixed, the officer’s career can be saved without stigma, the same as would be the case with any temporary condition.”
There were more discussions but eventually my recommendations were followed and the results were what the Coast Guard wanted. A drop in suicides, no bad press, no ruined families and/or careers.
What’s this got to do with the previous article or you? Professionals need access to confidential services which are insulated from their careers. Medical professionals are especially vulnerable to suicide for the same reasons the officers were.
I don’t know about your state, but here in California the available services are career destroying if one goes through “channels.” This is particularly true for nurses. Services also must be based on what actually works – not the long debunked AA/12-Step model which is designed for failure.
Over the years, we have worked with dozens of medical and education professionals to quietly and permanently extricate them from the alcohol difficulties without ruining their careers. Only once have we had to report a physician as a “danger to others” and that was because he didn’t want to quit endangering patients with his intoxicated work.
You may not be a physician, nurse, teacher, or university faculty member – but you probably don’t want to be permanently branded with the “Scarlet A For Alcoholic” for a temporary and curable condition. But that would be you choice, wouldn’t it?