The impaired anesthesiologist: what you should know about substance abuse

Despite our considerable experience with the problem of addiction in our specialty, most anesthesia care providers don’t know how to identify or help an impaired colleague. The purpose of this article to provide sufficient information on substance use disorder (SUD) to aid in its identification amongst colleagues and to assist in its management.

Depending on the region, 10-15% of the general population is prone to developing a SUD and will abuse drugs or alcohol at some point in their life. Physicians and other healthcare professionals are not immune to the disease of addiction and are just as prone to developing SUD as laypersons. Even so, the risk of mortality is significantly increased because of access to potent and highly addictive anesthetic agents with a narrow therapeutic index when self-administered. Also, the number of anesthesia residents who are identified as having SUD is currently increasing.

Due to the considerable morbidity and mortality associated with the abuse of anesthetic agents as well as the continuous increase in the rate of substance abuse by anesthesia providers, it is essential for anesthesia care providers to become familiar with the presenting signs and symptoms of substance abuse and impairment.

Objectives of this Continuing Professional Development (CPD) module:

After reading this module, the reader should be able to:

  1. Cite the current prevalence of drug impairment among anesthesia providers.
  2. Describe the key signs suggesting that a colleague might be developing a substance abuse problem.
  3. Describe the natural progression of the condition.
  4. Describe the procedure that should be followed if you suspect your colleague has a substance abuse problem.

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