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Substance use disorders in physicians: Assessment and treatment

Lisa J Merlo, PhD, MPE
Scott A Teitelbaum, MD
Kenneth Thompson, MD
Section Editor
Richard Saitz, MD, MPH, FACP, DFASAM
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


The term "impaired physician" refers to physicians with psychiatric, cognitive, behavioral, or general medical problems that have the potential to adversely affect the physician’s ability to perform specific duties. The subgroup of greatest concern and study are physicians impaired by alcohol or illicit drug use/prescription drug misuse. Their impairment puts patients at risk of harm and thus has been subject to considerable clinical and regulatory attention.

Most of the published data on this topic are limited to physicians in the United States (US), where treatment of impaired physicians is overseen by physician health programs (PHP). Much of the information may be relevant to other types of clinicians [1,2] and other countries where these problems have received attention [3-12]. PHPs in the US provide coordination, monitoring, and expertise in the care of impaired physicians (and other healthcare professionals) [13], which when combined with treatment of the person’s substance use disorder (SUD), have generally led to high rates of sustained remission and return to medical practice [14-19].

This topic addresses the assessment, treatment, and oversight of physicians impaired by addiction. The epidemiology, clinical manifestations, identification, and engagement of physicians impaired by addiction are discussed separately. Prescription drug misuse and continuing care for addiction are also discussed separately. The epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of specific SUDs are also discussed separately.

See related topics:

(See "Substance use disorders in physicians: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, identification, and engagement".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Mar 1, 2016.
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