Med Students and Addiction

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Medical students everywhere are faced with high pressure schedules, intense learning requirements, and high standards that often aren’t present in many other academic careers. Because of this high stress environment, a statistically large number of medical students use substances and stimulants and even become addicted to painkillers, drugs, and alcohol. In fact, in one study, it was found that 20% of medical students are expected to be regular users over their lifetime, compared to just 9% of the general population.

Why Med Students?

High pressure environments, and the need to perform, stay awake longer, and fit long study sessions in alongside exams, lectures, and even visits to a hospital take their toll and cause fatigue, burnout, stress, and mental issues. As a result, many medical students abuse drugs that are intended to either help them cope with stress or to give them the cognitive or physical boost they need to perform. In one study of 12,500 medical students, 32.4% (1,411) met diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, and risk factors included high student loans, low quality of life, high stress, low emotional quality of life, and a mental or physical burnout from too-high workloads. Some studies have also cited the 200x increase in medical tution costs since the late 1990s as directly correlating to the increased risk of drug use by med students in that time.

Performance Boosting Drug Use

Adderall, Ritalin and similar ADHD medicines are often abused to improve performance and improve wakefulness, alongside coffee and some other drugs. Adderall functions as a stimulant which is believed to boost cognition and focus, and thus, many students know it as the study drug. Students often chew these drugs or hold them under the tongue for faster and more potent absorption right into the bloodstream, bypassing the liver. As a result, while the number of Adderall prescriptions in the USA remained relatively stable between 2006 and 2011, misuse of the drug jumped 67 percent and emergency room visits related to the drug jumped by 156% during that period. Because most of these users are between the ages of 18 and 25, a significant number are students.

ADHD/Cognitive Behavior Diagnosis – In a study of 143 students, it was found that nearly 9% had a diagnosis for ADHD or other cognitive behavior issue and a prescription from that diagnosis. However, the study also found that they were more than 30 times as likely to abuse their prescriptions as regular students. Getting an ADHD diagnosis and the prescription that comes with it also isn’t especially difficult, as estimates suggest that only 2-4% of the currently diagnosed medical student body with ADHD have ADHD. Unfortunately, these drugs quickly lead to dependence, even at low dosage, and can cause agitation, anxiety, insomnia, crashes, cardiovascular problems, and even death.
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Stress Reducing Drugs

While many med students take drugs to improve their focus and clarity, others use alcohol and drugs to escape from stressful schedules. In one study, it was found that as many as 22.4% of junior med students abused alcohol regularly, often in combination with benzodiazepines, prescription medication, and of course, nicotine. Stress is one of the most common triggers for addiction across all types of addiction, and medical students are faced with dailypressure to perform, memorize, and handle growing responsibilities. This makes many of them more vulnerable to drugs that are made available on campus, alcohol at parties, and to abusing their own existing drug prescriptions.

In one study, published in the Journal of Addictive Medicine, Issue 4, 2013, it was shown that in a review of data on more than 44,000 medical studentsbetween 1975 and 2009, 2.16 out of every 1,000 residents were shown to have been addicted to or abused hard drugs or alcohol. From 2003-2009, that rate was a high as 2.87 per 1,000 residents. Among 284 residents who were highlighted in this study, popular drugs included IV opioids like fentanyl, alcohol, anesthetics like benzodiazepines, marijuana, and even cocaine. The same data shows that many of these students have an average of a 20% relapse rate at 5 years and a 35% rate at 15 years.
Many medical students combine drugs, using combinations of energy drinks and alcohol for a ‘high’ without the reduced motor control given by alcohol, combine ‘uppers’ like Ritalin with benzodiazepines to reduce stress, and even bring down dangerous highs from Adderall and Ritalin with high doses of cold medicine to sleep. These combinations, which are used to counteract the negative effects of the drugs are often dangerous on their own and more addictive than a single drug by itself.

As many as 20% of medical students use drugs for recreational or performance boosting purposes, and this often goes on to affect doctors. In one study, it was shown that 10-15% of all practicing doctors will face substance abuse and addiction at some point during their career, and many abuse the drugs that they hand out as part of their own prescriptions.

Many Never Get Help

Despite high levels of med student drug use and addiction, the stigma surrounding substance abuse ensures that many medical students are likely to self medicate but unlikely to report. In an anonymous survey, only 1.6% said that they would even want help with their addiction or dependence, and many were unaware that there were options available for help at all. This is in part because many medical students learn a great deal about the drugs they are using, and therefore are more likely to think they are in control. As a result, many never seek treatment, and can remain addicted well into their careers. Many also fear that the stigma of an addiction will negatively affect their career as a nurse or doctor, but The Federation of State Physician Health Programs ‘physician health program’ mandates that any physician or medical student be allowed to keep their addiction and subsequent treatment secret, providing they are not or have not physically harmed a patient through negligence when addicted.

If you or a loved one is addicted or dependent on a substance, it is crucial that you get help and get your life back. There are many treatment programs that will not only allow you to keep your treatment a secret, but also that will allow students to continue attending classes as though nothing is wrong. Substance dependence can cause physical and bodily harm, cause students to fail or reduce your grades, and can affect decision making, judgment, and memory. A professional rehab can help you to get over a physical addiction while treating your mental addiction, helping you with stress, and giving you the tools to stay clean.

The Anaheim Lighthouse is a modern and effective addiction treatment center in Southern California. To talk to us about financing options at our affordable drug and alcohol rehab that fit your needs, call (877) 959-5909.

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