Use Of Substances in the Workplace.

Use Of Substances


In the course of working, professionals in the healthcare industry encounter patients with various conditions. While some conditions are so minor, other conditions are quite major. They not only require academic intelligence accompanied by experience to deal with them. They also require emotional intelligence as they affect the professionals who are equally human in nature. It is these serious and unusual experiences that often trigger professionals to use substances like drugs (Barbee, 2016). This often occurs when the professional tries to emotionally detach themselves from their sympathy feelings for the patient; when the professional tries to forget the type of experience they encountered as well as when the professional has encountered a certain condition for the first time.

These experiences affect the professional mental health. In some instances, the image of the patient may always come to haunt down the professional in cases whereby the doctor’s negligence may have contributed to the severity of the patient’s conditions or it could have contributed to their death. Besides, pressure in the workplace may be too much (Barbee, 2016). With very few professionals in the healthcare industry and very many patients visiting the hospitals, pressure in the workplace may lead to mental breakdown. In an attempt to stabilize their thought, professionals run into using substances to cope with countertransference, secondary traumatization and eventually the professionals develop an addiction to the substances leading to development of mental health problems.

Use of substances to cope with countertransference

Professionals often experience countertransference which negatively affects their performance in the workplace. Countertransference is described as the emotions that a professional exhibits in response to a patient’s condition or behavior due to their personal past experience. When professionals are dealing with children who have undergone severe trauma or abuse, they often develop negative feelings. They become sad and angry just like any other human being because children are considered to be innocent before the law. In a case whereby the professional had undergone a similar form of abuse, they often revisit their memories and it may lead to secondary depression (Cosden, Sanford, Koch & Lepore, 2016). Some professionals are equally struggling with substance abuse disorders and some of them may have either been abused or neglected when growing up. It is in these experiences that these professionals have to confront their own experiences and their impact in their lives. Besides, these professional may become emotional and desire to make the patient go through a healing stage which they have not reached in an attempt to cope up with their emotional needs.  

In the case of occurrence of countertransference, the professional losses their objectivity, they become overwhelmed and are angry at both the patient and themselves as long as they are angry at the work they are doing. Since work is inevitable and they cannot quit, these professionals tend to run into substance abuse to cope up with the challenges of countertransference. Abuse of drugs gives them false positive feelings; it helps them erase their memories as well as gives them the patience to deal with these patients who have experiences similar to the ones they went through as children (Chan, Khong & Wang, 2017). For the sake of avoiding situations whereby they may force the patient to not talk about what they underwent, professionals use substances to deal with this challenge. In order to deliver at their work place, they gradually increase their dependence on these substances so as to deliver and thus, eventually they become dependents on the substance abused leading to addiction to the drug in order to deliver in the workplace.

Use of substances to cope with secondary traumatization

            In their daily operations in the workplace, professionals encounter patients with severe trauma, high degree of burns as well as patients who have undergone very severe emotional, psychological and physical trauma. For example, a healthcare professional may encounter a patient with 65% burns. This is a patient whose natural and normal skin can be hardly seen and they appear as burnt meat for lack of a better word. Professionals who encounter patients who are on their death bed due to excruciating pain from accidents and severe conditions like stage 4 cancer often retain that image and experience in their memories. A professional who handles a child who has undergone severe abuse whereby besides sexual abuse the child has been physically tortured by either cuts or extreme caning, they will always retain the image of the child in their memory. Often the professionals will try visualizing the kind of pain that their patients went through during their experience (Barbee, 2016). The constant and continuous exposure to these conditions, exploitation and victimization makes the professional to experience anxiety, a difficulty in relating to people as well as when the patients conditions was quite severe, the professional may experience nightmares and horrifying dreams whereby the image of the patient may severally come back in form of drams. Some professionals become sentimental and are angry at the patient especially if the actions of the patient prompted the occurrence of the negative incidence.

            When professionals encounter such traumatizing events, they tend to lose their interest in a client, under or over invest in the treatment of a patient. When the professional under invests, he or she becomes numb to the feelings of the patient they are dealing with and dismiss or pay less attention to the history, diagnosis and treatment of a patient. Whenever they over invest, they go beyond the required boundaries of treatment and may often engage in parental responsibilities like giving the patient financial aid which later brings problems in the workplace. In order to deal with these, the professionals often engage in drug substance abuse to help in managing the trauma that has come as a result of encountering severe patient conditions (Chan, Khong & Wang, 2017). Drugs like alcohol help them erase the memories giving them an easy time to sleep. Some professionals’ resort to using opioids to help them induce sleep and eventually they become addicted to the drugs. The substances thy abuse help them to maintain effective communication and good relationship with people in cases where a patient came with emotional and physical trauma inflicted by people they trusted.

Use of substances to cope with burnout

            Professionals who are working with clients suffering from chronic mental health issues, childhood abuse and individuals suffering from severe substance abuse, often experience a burnout. A burnout can be described as the experience of a professional where they lack morale and their spirit is low due to pressure in the workplace that eventually affects personal life (Cosden, Sanford, Koch & Lepore, 2016). In addition to that, when the professional is working with a client who is currently abusing substances and he or she received maltreatment as a child when growing up, the professional may tend to be unfocused in helping the client out of their situation.

 A professional often puts their personal life at risk when they are handling many patients with trauma, lack monitoring their reactions towards patients, fail to get supervision and support from other professionals in the industry and when they fail to maintain a healthy personal lifestyle. In an attempt to cope up with the building workload, the professionals often tend to run to substance abuse. By abusing substances, they get relief. Besides, they detach themselves form their patients and thus, they deal with them as clients instead of humans in dire need of help. In cases whereby sharing their experiences with others working with similar patients does not help, the professionals find substance abuse as the best possible option to cope with stress in the workplace.

Use Of Substances in the Workplace.

Professional use of substance and addiction

            The repeated use of substances as a management tool for stress and coping up in the workplace, professionals often find themselves addicted to these substances. The brain plays a major role in the development of this addiction. The brain has a portion called the reward system. The reward system is the pleasure/survival portion of our brain that tells an individual to drink, eat, and have sex. This portion tells an individual when they need to find water, food, as well as when they need to spread our genetic wealth. This portion of the brain is hard to change once it has become altered by drugs. This portion of the brain also does not develop until the age 20 (NIDA, 2018). All professionals are usually above 20 years meaning this portion of the brain is developed. There is one more portion of the brain that is important, it is called the Hippocampus & the amygdala, and they modulate memory and emotion.  There are also two main hormones in the brain that are released to control emotions. These are serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin levels are high when someone is depressed sad or unhappy, and dopamine is released when someone is happy and pleased.

When the professionals use drug’s the amount of dopamine that is released is increased. For example, the normal amount of dopamine released is 200, and that is usually an individual has consumed a lot of caffeine, and he or she is super happy. Well when drugs are consumed, such as Methamphetamine the dopamine level increases to as much as 1300. And yes, that seems great, well sure it is for a short amount of time, the only problem with this, is that our brains are only used to releasing a certain amount at a time (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). So eventually, when the dopamine level is at let’s say, 1300 for several months, the professionals brain will then put the break on and say no this event is not normal. So, then it will dump the increased amount of dopamine into the cleft portion of the brain, and then the professional begins to feel as if he or she needs more to get high. So, then it becomes a cycle, and it gets worse, and worse, the longer the professional uses the substance, they develop addiction and their mental health is eventually affected.


From the above, it is evident that professionals often result into substance abuse as a means of coping up with stress in the workplace as well as a means of maintaining sanity in their personal life. Professionals may abuse drug substances like alcohol, cocaine and heroin among other drugs. These drugs often work by making them high by giving them a false positive energized feeling as well as by erasing their memories. Through this, they are able to cope with countertransference, secondary traumatization, and burnout. However, the repeated use of these substances makes them dependent on the substances and they develop addiction. It is thus important for professionals to share out their traumatizing experiences with others, work under supervision and handle a manageable number of patients and cases to avoid running to drug substances as a means of coping up.

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Chan, S. T., Khong, P. C. B., & Wang, W. (2017). Psychological responses, coping and

supporting needs of healthcare professionals as second victims. International nursing review, 64(2), 242-262.

Cosden, M., Sanford, A., Koch, L. M., & Lepore, C. E. (2016). Vicarious trauma and vicarious

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Retrieved November 15, 2019, from

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