Impaired Professionals

The term “impaired professionals” refers to members of the medical, legal, social service, or other professions who have been disabled to some degree by alcohol or drug addiction. There are now many resources for these people, but there are few if any support or advocacy groups that serve professionals suffering from other addictions, such as eating, gambling, or sexual addiction.

The development of groups for impaired professionals has grown out of an awareness of the prevalence of this problem.

Before the 1980s there was a lack of awareness of the early signs of addiction and a conspiracy of silence among colleagues reluctant to confront each other’s problems. Intervention was provided or help sought only after significant damage had occurred to a person’s self, family, and possibly even their clients or patients.


Programs for impaired professionals grew out of the interest of many who had suffered from the disease of addiction themselves. This, combined with a medical community better informed about addiction and recovery, has led to help for many who previously lacked such opportunities.


There has been a cooperative effort by professional organizations, advocacy committees for the addicts, and the licensure authorities designed to protect the public. There are avenues for the addicts to get confidential help, and there are intervention techniques available for families, friends, and other concerned professionals. A professional may seek help herself. Family and friends can intervene. A noncoercive advocacy group of colleagues and peers may approach an addict. Employee assistance programs can help. A state professional society’s committee formed for such a task can intervene. As a last resort, a person could be reported to a state’s licensing board.

The impaired professional movement is designed to provide education, support, and protection for both the consumer and the addict. Referral and treatment are confidential, and there are usually recovering professionals available on treatment staffs and in advocacy and support committees and groups.


There are informal networks in many states composed of dedicated professionals to provide education, intervention, referrals, and aftercare support. They also may help members who have lost their license to practice. Some professions for which support is available are doctors, nurses, dentists, anesthetists, nuns and priests, pharmacists, lawyers, social workers, and airline pilots. For details of what is available in your area, contact your state professional organization, professional regulatory board, or an employee assistance program.

Impaired professionals, see also: Aftercare, Certification, Codependency, Core functions, Counseling, Disease concept, Dual diagnosis, Employee assistance programs, Energy levels, Half-measures, Halfway house, Incest, Intervention, Professional organizations, Progression, Psychological problems, Therapy & treatment, Tolerance, Withdrawal.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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