The Stress of Helping Others Heal
Healthcare professionals and addiction is a current issue in the current COVID world. Healthcare professionals work in an intense, fast-paced environment, and while their professions are celebrated and championed, the stress of their occupation cannot be understated. Despite the respect garnered from their communities, this pressure can have adverse effects on a healthcare professional’s mental and emotional health, leading to a number of destructive outcomes.
Between compassion fatigue, burnout, and pure exhaustion, healthcare professionals are constantly battling stress and are in need of outlets to process the constant barrage of high-stress scenarios, with substance abuse being a common response to these conditions. Even while helping others heal, substance use disorder and addiction can be prevalent among healthcare professionals, and understanding the trials they face can help destigmatize addiction in this important and strained community.
Understanding the Trials of Healthcare Workers
Healthcare professionals are exposed to traumas on a daily basis. Seeing victims of abuse or trauma victims following car crashes or acts of violence takes an emotional toll, and witnessing the effects of disease can add to these tense feelings. Delivering unfortunate diagnoses and information to patients or families can be difficult, and constant exposure to these events can equally desensitize an individual while still building up the emotional weight in the back of one’s head.
These struggles have only been even further exacerbated by the continued effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing each individual’s workload and greatly extending hours. Nursing and healthcare turnover rates as a result of this stressful environment only continue to compound these effects, increasing the rate of burnout and the need for a break while being tasked with continuing to tackle the pandemic with strained and tired personnel.
Long hours and the inability to take a vacation can make an individual feel extraordinarily limited in their options, and the use of addictive substances can become a common alternative, even if one knows it is a destructive and dangerous practice.
Access to Substances and Knowledge
Healthcare professionals also work in close proximity to a wide variety of controlled substances and know the effects they have on an individual. This access to prescription drugs and intense substances can make their use seem like a tempting prospect. Coupled with the widespread availability of alcohol across the country, healthcare professionals have unique access to dangerous substances.
Knowing the side effects of various drugs can falsely empower an individual to feel they are in control of their use or can moderate themselves, creating a dangerous precedent in one’s mind that can quickly lead to a substance use disorder or addiction.
Addressing Substance Abuse in Healthcare Professionals
While difficult, it is important to discuss addiction and substance use among healthcare professionals. Substance abuse and addiction can affect anyone, and nobody is immune to addiction regardless of one’s profession or education. One’s work performance, stress and frustration, mood swings, and work attendance can all be affected by one’s substance use to the detriment of one’s own health, professional status, and the wellness of one’s patients.
The topic of substance abuse is a delicate one, but it is essential to create a sense of solidarity and community to face these tumultuous, stressful times and find alternative coping strategies.
For some, this can mean getting together with coworkers and peers to discuss the struggles that these professionals face every day. Others may want to go in the opposite direction and turn off their phones or limit access to information while not on the clock to distance themselves from the stresses of the workplace. Determining the kinds of boundaries that each individual wants to set is the first step towards creating a healthier balance between workplace stresses and one’s home life.
Finding a Community
It can be difficult to articulate how the work environment affects an individual on a personal level. Coupled with the national attention to the coronavirus, as well as the misinformation, doubt, and the birth of new variants therein, the idea that Covid-19 can be overcome can feel like a pipe dream, adding a sense of uncertainty that only increases one’s fatigue. Communities of peers are essential in sharing this unique perspective while developing personalized strategies pertinent to one’s profession.
Acknowledging the trials that healthcare professionals face is essential in deconstructing the stigmas that surround this championed role in a community. Supporting healthcare professionals through this worldwide pandemic means not just understanding that they work long hours and in stressful environments but also allowing healthcare professionals to be people with their own needs outside of the workplace for their own mental, physical, and emotional health.