Health Care Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

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posted by Ted Ryan on September 25, 2012

Health care workers, more than the general public, face many workplace risk factors for substance abuse disorders. Among these factors are access, stress, lack of education and attitude.

Access is generally an issue in facility settings, but presents a potential risk in any situation where one cares for a highly prescribed client, as many are in the elder care field. Additionally, loose prescribing practices among friends contribute to abuse. Working closely with members of the medical community, a caregiver may form the habit of obtaining prescriptions from physician friends, rather than seek appropriate medical care.

Studies have found that grueling schedules and stressful occupations increase the likelihood of substance abuse. In the home health care field, many caregivers work long shifts with limited time off. This can lead to fatigue, sleep deprivation and other stress-related disorders. Self-medication for stress and pain is a constant concern.

There is an alarming lack of education on addiction and its signs and symptoms. This contributes to negative stereotypes of substance abusers, especially in the health care field. Health care professionals hold the most negative views of colleagues with substance use disorders, causing those in the field to try harder to conceal their abusive habit, increasing the risk to all.

Additionally, health care workers tend to foster unhealthy attitudes about substance abuse. Some see it as an acceptable method of coping with life’s problems. Due to training and daily observations, caregivers may develop a faith in drugs as a means of promoting healing. As caregivers, there may be a perception of being invulnerable. After all, the title is caregiver, not care-receiver. The perceived need to keep working has a habit of building a sense of entitlement in caregivers. Lastly is the tendency of training and practice to lead to an acceptance of self-diagnosing and self-medicating for physical pain and stress.

With these inherent factors, it is important to promote healthy living. Seek support for yourself or peers if you encounter substance abuse. For more information and resources for getting help, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, by visiting their website or calling 1-877-726-4727. They also offer a 24-hour treatment reference hotline, at 1-800-662-4357. Local St. Louis home health care workers may contact the Greater St. Louis Treatment Network at 314-436-0534.

Creating an environment of education, advocacy and support, we can keep St. Louis home health care workers at the peak of their potential.

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Advocacy and Education, Caregiving, and Health

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