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Addicted Professionals

Since 1999, Burning Tree Ranch has treated licensed and unlicensed professionals struggling with addiction, mental health, and chronic relapse.

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Little-Known Facts About Professionals and Their Struggles with Addiction

When we think of professionals – lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, and the like – we often conjure images of success, discipline, and prestige. Rarely does the image of addiction come to mind. Yet, the reality is that addiction does not discriminate based on career, socioeconomic status, or education. It affects professionals as much as any other group, though it often remains concealed behind closed doors, away from the public eye.

One of the little-known facts about professionals is that many are exposed to high stress levels. Meeting targets, long hours, managing high-stakes situations, and bearing immense responsibility can all contribute to increased vulnerability to addiction. Substance abuse, especially alcohol, can begin to unwind after a challenging day, leading to a dangerous spiral into dependency.
Professionals often face the pressure of upholding a particular image or standard. This leads many to experience imposter syndrome – the feeling that they’re not genuinely qualified for their position and the fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Such psychological stress can make individuals more susceptible to seeking solace in drugs or alcohol.
Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers have an increased risk of addiction, not just due to the stressful nature of their jobs but also because of easy access to prescription medications. This ease of availability can lead to self-medication, making it a growing healthcare problem.
Professionals struggling with addiction often hide their issues due to the fear of jeopardizing their careers. The stigma associated with addiction might be even more pronounced in professional environments, which prides itself on discipline and control. Consequently, many professionals fail to seek help, exacerbating their addiction issues.
Not all addicts fit the stereotype of someone whose life is visibly falling apart. Many professionals are “high functioning” addicts who maintain their job performance and societal roles while battling a severe addiction. This ability to function can make it difficult for others to recognize the signs, often delaying necessary intervention.

The legal field is another sector where professionals face a heightened risk. According to several studies, lawyers experience substance abuse and mental health issues more than other professionals. The adversarial nature of the legal system, combined with long hours and often emotionally draining work, contributes to this increased vulnerability.

Professionals often avoid treatment because they fear it would mean taking time off work, thereby revealing their struggles. Even when considering treatment, they might opt for outpatient programs instead of more intensive inpatient programs, potentially sacrificing the quality of care they receive.

When professionals seek help, they have unique needs. They often benefit from specialized treatment programs catering to their professional concerns and challenges. Such programs focus not just on the addiction but also on the underlying pressures of their profession.

In conclusion, professionals are as vulnerable to addiction as any other group, if not more so, due to the unique stresses and challenges they face. Society must recognize this often-overlooked issue, break down the walls of stigma, and offer tailored support to those in need.

The Unseen Struggles: Why Families of Successful Professionals Resist Recognizing Addiction

The families of successful professionals often carry a burden of expectations, pride, and societal image. Acceptance becomes challenging when confronted with the stark reality that their accomplished loved one might be battling addiction. Here’s why:

Successful professionals, by the very definition of their success, have cultivated an image of control, discipline, and achievement. Family members take pride in this image and fear that acknowledging an addiction would tarnish the professional’s reputation and the family’s standing in society. This concern for public perception can overshadow the urgent need for intervention and support.

Families often fall into the trap of denial. They might believe, “He’s too smart to let this happen,” or “She’s just stressed; it’s a phase.” This cognitive dissonance between the successful image and the reality of addiction leads to rationalizations that delay recognizing the problem.

The professional’s success often translates to financial stability for the family. Accepting their loved one has an addiction might mean potential breaks from work, rehabilitation costs, or even job loss. The economic ramifications can be daunting for family members, making them hesitant to confront the issue.

A significant challenge is the misconception that addicts fit a certain stereotype of decline and dysfunction. Many successful professionals with addiction are high functioning, maintaining their roles and responsibilities. This facade can deceive family members into thinking the issue isn’t severe or manageable without intervention.

 Admitting that a central figure needs help can be perceived as introducing instability or fragmentation into the family unit. There might be fears of the professional being away for treatment, changing dynamics, or even fears of the unknown trajectory post-treatment.

Accepting a loved one’s addiction sometimes brings guilt or blame. Questions like “Where did we go wrong?” or “Could we have prevented this?” can torment family members, making it easier to remain in denial than face these painful introspections.

In summary, the intersection of societal expectations, personal beliefs, and the complexities of addiction make it challenging for families of successful professionals to accept the reality of their loved one’s struggle. Understanding and compassion are essential in helping these families navigate this problematic realization and seek the necessary support.

Common Misconceptions about Licensed Professionals and Addiction

At Burning Tree Ranch, we have encountered several misconceptions about licensed professionals and their propensity for addiction. Here are some of the top common misconceptions:

One misconception is that because licensed professionals have achieved a certain level of education and professional success, they’re somehow immune to addiction. In reality, no one is immune. The pressures and stresses of some professions might even make specific individuals more susceptible.

There’s a notion that those with higher incomes or prestigious jobs are less likely to struggle with addiction. This is false; addiction doesn’t discriminate based on income or professional status. Financial means may sometimes facilitate more accessible access to substances.

Some believe that professionals are high-functioning; they can handle their drug or alcohol use without it becoming problematic. While there’s a phenomenon called “high-functioning addiction,” where an individual maintains outward appearances while battling addiction, this doesn’t mean the addiction isn’t harmful or destructive.

Some people think licensed professionals might only use substances perceived as “high-class” or “sophisticated,” such as prescription medications or expensive alcohol. In truth, professionals, like any group, can and do struggle with a range of substances.

While losing one’s professional license or job due to addiction is legitimate, the belief that this is the primary or only consequence oversimplifies the issue. There are also significant health, legal, family, and personal implications.

There’s a belief that professionals are too proud or have too much at stake to seek help. While some may hesitate due to potential professional repercussions, many professional associations and licensing boards have mechanisms to support professionals seeking treatment.

While high stress associated with some professions can contribute to substance use, it’s an oversimplification to say it’s the only factor. Genetics, mental health conditions, past traumas, and other personal characteristics can also play a role.

It’s a misconception to believe only certain “high-stress” professions are at risk for addiction. Every profession has unique challenges; regardless of occupation, anyone can be susceptible to addiction.

Understanding these misconceptions is critical for addressing and mitigating addiction stigma among licensed professionals. This stigma can be a barrier to seeking help, so it’s essential to challenge and correct these misconceptions when encountered.

Types of Substances Abused by Professionals

Rates of addiction and substance abuse can vary among licensed professionals in the U.S. based on the unique stresses, cultures, and demands of each profession. Here’s a broad overview of some licensed professions and their tendencies regarding substance use

Physicians

Rate: Estimated to be around 10-15% in their lifetime.
Common Substances: Alcohol, prescription opioids, and anesthetics.
Reasons: High stress, long hours, and easy access to prescription medications.

Nurses

Rate: Estimates suggest 6-8% might impair professional performance.
Common Substances: Prescription opioids and alcohol.
Reasons: Access to medications, high stress, and long shifts.

Dentists

Rate: Believed to have rates slightly higher than the general population.
Common Substances: Alcohol, sedatives, and opioids.
Reasons: Professional isolation, medication access, and the job's physical demands.

Lawyers

Rate: 21-36% may qualify as problem drinkers.
Common Substances: Alcohol predominantly.
Reasons: High stress, adversarial nature of the profession, and long hours.

Pharmacists

Rate: Similar to or slightly higher than the general population.
Common Substances: Prescription medications.
Reasons: Access to medications and the demands of retail settings.

Financial Services

Rate: Anecdotal evidence suggests it might be higher than the general population for specific substances.
Common Substances: Alcohol, cocaine, and stimulants.
Reasons: High stress, long hours, and historical industry culture.

Engineers

Rate: Specific data is sparse, but they might align more closely with the general population.
Common Substances: Alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications.
Reasons: Project-related stresses and periods of intensive work.

Teachers and Educators

Rate: Similar rates to the general population.
Common Substances: Alcohol and prescription medications.
Reasons: Stress from classroom management, administrative pressures, and emotional demands.

Rates of Addiction Amongst Licensed Professionals

Burning Tree Ranch understands that addiction rates among licensed professionals in the United States can vary widely based on the profession and the specific substances involved. While comprehensive data across all professional disciplines might be challenging to pinpoint, several studies help provide a glimpse. 

Here is a brief overview:

Physicians

Studies have shown that the prevalence of substance use disorders among physicians is similar to or slightly higher than the general population. The lifetime prevalence rate for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence is estimated at 10-15% for physicians.

Nurses

The American Nurses Association has estimated that around 6-8% of nurses use alcohol or drugs to an extent sufficient to impair professional performance. The ease of access to prescription medications in the healthcare setting might contribute to this.

Dentists

Research has indicated that dentists might have slightly higher rates of substance abuse, particularly with alcohol, sedatives, and opioids, compared to the general population.

Lawyers

The American Bar Association has reported concerns about lawyers having significant rates of substance abuse, especially regarding alcohol. A study published in the "Journal of Addiction Medicine" found that among nearly 13,000 U.S. lawyers surveyed, 21-36% qualified as problem drinkers.

Pharmacists

Pharmacists' substance abuse rates are believed to be roughly equivalent to or slightly higher than the general population. Access to drugs can be a contributing factor here as well.

Engineers, Architects, and Other Professionals

Comprehensive studies on addiction rates for these groups are less common. Still, their industries' pressures can predispose some individuals to substance use disorders. The rates might be more in line with the general population, but this can vary.

Licensed Financial Professionals

Anecdotal evidence and qualitative studies suggest that substance abuse, particularly alcohol and stimulants, might be higher among financial services professionals than among other professions

General Population for Comparison

For context, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 60.1% of Americans aged 12 and older reported being current drinkers, and about 5.3% of Americans aged 12 and older had a substance use disorder related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.

It’s essential to interpret these numbers with caution. Various factors can influence addiction rates, including the study’s definitions and methodologies, self-reporting biases, and changing societal attitudes toward substance use.

Furthermore, many licensed professionals work in high-stress environments, and the stigma surrounding addiction can often deter them from seeking help or admitting to a problem, possibly leading to underreporting.

Rates of Addiction Amongst Licensed Professionals

Burning Tree Ranch understands that addiction rates among licensed professionals in the United States can vary widely based on the profession and the specific substances involved. While comprehensive data across all professional disciplines might be challenging to pinpoint, several studies help provide a glimpse. 

Here is a brief overview:

Studies have shown that the prevalence of substance use disorders among physicians is similar to or slightly higher than the general population. The lifetime prevalence rate for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence is estimated at 10-15% for physicians.

The American Nurses Association has estimated that around 6-8% of nurses use alcohol or drugs to an extent sufficient to impair professional performance. The ease of access to prescription medications in the healthcare setting might contribute to this.

Research has indicated that dentists might have slightly higher rates of substance abuse, particularly with alcohol, sedatives, and opioids, compared to the general population.

The American Bar Association has reported concerns about lawyers having significant rates of substance abuse, especially regarding alcohol. A study published in the “Journal of Addiction Medicine” found that among nearly 13,000 U.S. lawyers surveyed, 21-36% qualified as problem drinkers.

Pharmacists’ substance abuse rates are believed to be roughly equivalent to or slightly higher than the general population. Access to drugs can be a contributing factor here as well.

Comprehensive studies on addiction rates for these groups are less common. Still, their industries’ pressures can predispose some individuals to substance use disorders. The rates might be more in line with the general population, but this can vary.

Anecdotal evidence and qualitative studies suggest that substance abuse, particularly alcohol and stimulants, might be higher among financial services professionals than among other professions

For context, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 60.1% of Americans aged 12 and older reported being current drinkers, and about 5.3% of Americans aged 12 and older had a substance use disorder related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.

n among other professions

It’s essential to interpret these numbers with caution. Various factors can influence addiction rates, including the study’s definitions and methodologies, self-reporting biases, and changing societal attitudes toward substance use.

Furthermore, many licensed professionals work in high-stress environments, and the stigma surrounding addiction can often deter them from seeking help or admitting to a problem, possibly leading to underreporting.

Consequences of Addiction for Licensed Professionals

Licensed professionals who develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol can face many professional and personal consequences. Here are some expected consequences:

Professional Repercussions
Health Consequences
Financial Consequences
Interpersonal & Social Consequences
Legal and Ethical Violations
Potential for Accidents

Addressing addiction among licensed professionals requires understanding these potential consequences and providing avenues for support and treatment. The hope is to encourage affected individuals to seek help before these consequences become severe.

Addiction, Licensed Professionals & State Regulatory Boards

All states in the U.S. have regulatory boards for various professions that typically address substance abuse in some form, given the implications for public safety and professional competence. The depth and clarity of these policies can vary, but most state licensing boards have established guidelines and procedures for addressing drug and alcohol abuse among their members.

Some of the professions that have well-defined policies across various states include:

Why Are Addicted Professionals Referred to Burning Tree Ranch for Treatment?

Burning Tree Ranch, located in Texas, is known for its long-term inpatient treatment program specifically tailored to individuals seeking a more extended, intensive intervention than what is provided by traditional 30-to-90-day treatment programs. As the only long-term addiction treatment program in the Nation, Burning Tree Ranch is suited to treat addicted professionals for several reasons: 

Many professional licensing boards require evidence of rigorous treatment and a significant period of sobriety before allowing an individual to return to practice and licensure. Burning Tree’s long-term inpatient program provides the comprehensive documentation and evidence of sustained recovery that these boards require.

The extended duration (often lasting 8-14 months, followed by one year of aftercare) provides individuals the time to address deep-seated issues underlying their addiction. It allows for healing at a more profound level and offers the chance to practice sobriety skills over an extended period.

Burning Tree Ranch continues to evolve its program specifically for individuals who have undergone multiple previous treatment attempts but have continued to relapse. The Burning Tree clinical approach recognizes the complexities of chronic relapse and seeks to break the cycle permanently.

Addicted professionals often have co-occurring mental health issues. Burning Tree Ranch treats addiction and any co-existing psychological disorders, offering better outcomes for professionals seeking long-term recovery.

The structured environment at Burning Tree Ranch can benefit professionals who are used to a routine but have had their schedules disrupted by addiction. It provides a sense of normality and discipline.

Being in a community of other professionals undergoing similar challenges for an extended period allows for strong bond formation. This camaraderie can be a critical component of the healing process.

Burning Tree Ranch is situated on a large, secluded cattle Ranch, offering professionals a respite away from the public eye, ensuring privacy, and allowing them to focus entirely on their recovery without external distractions.

Burning Tree Ranch incorporates a robust aftercare program to support the transition into professional life. This involves continued accountability, therapy, support group involvement, and ongoing drug and alcohol testing.

Given the severe personal and professional ramifications of addiction for licensed (and non-licensed) professionals, many are willing to invest time and resources into a program that offers a much higher likelihood of long-term success.

Diversion Programs for Addicted Licensed Professionals

Burning Tree Ranch works with various Diversion Programs to help our clients overcome their unique licensing challenges caused by addiction. 

Diversion programs in the U.S. provide an alternative to revoking their professional licenses. For licensed professionals, these programs recognize the unique challenges and responsibilities that come with their professions. They are designed to ensure that the professional receives appropriate care and can return to their career safely, if possible.

Details of some of the standard diversion programs for licensed professionals include

Physician Health Programs (PHPs)
Nursing Diversion Programs
Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs)
Pharmacy Recovery Programs
Dental Diversion Programs
Pilot Intervention Programs
Key Features

Each state may have variations on these programs, with specific criteria for entry, program elements, and outcomes. Professionals must be aware of the options available in their state and profession.

KRISTINA ROBERTSON, LMSW, LCDC

KRISTINA ROBERTSON

LMSW, LCDC | Counselor
Kristina Robertson serves as Counselor at Burning Tree Ranch. Holding both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work, Kristina’s greatest joy is “watching our clients learn to love themselves again.” An avid equestrian, mother to twenty-one horses, and all-around animal lover, Kristina serves as a bright shining example of long-term recovery in action. Her commitment to whole person health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual makes her an invaluable member of the Burning Tree Ranch clinical team. As a distinguished Phi Theta Kappa and Alpha Zeta member, Kristina believes deeply in each client’s pursuit of becoming their best selves.

"who is a burning tree client?"

Beth Legacki, Burning Tree Ranch Alumni