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Drug addiction discussion in personal statements

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by koffein, Feb 1, 2009.

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Are personal experiences with substance abuse aceptable for personal statements?

  1. Yes, you should talk about this in your personal statement

    16 vote(s)
  2. No, do not do this

    108 vote(s)
  3. I do not know for certain either way

    25 vote(s)
  1. koffein

    koffein Banned

    Jan 25, 2009
    Edit: by personal statement I meant an essay segment in your application where you write about some difficult life experience that you have had to overcome and as a result have come out as a stronger/better individual.

    If a person has struggled with addiction to a substance (drugs including ethanol) and that experience very strongly afflicted his/her life for several months or longer, should that person mention this in his/her personal statement.

    Lets say the person is a friend that had an experience of cycles of functionality followed by inability to work, lack of affect, possibly depression. This person then did terribly for a semester but recovered and from the experience gained an immense amount of insight into addiction and certain mental states. I want to illustrate that the person had an extreme problem.

    The reason for at all bringing this up is that an extreme drop in academic performance occurred for the friend while in this period of addiction.

    Is this something that is safe to talk about with an adcom? Will it be taken against the applicant? How great of an influence will this have on the application?
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2009
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  3. Forkit

    Forkit 7+ Year Member

    Nov 17, 2007
    Do bother with such an essay if the "drug" of discussion is marijuana :rolleyes:
  4. koffein

    koffein Banned

    Jan 25, 2009
    Its a bit more serious than that
  5. Retsage

    Retsage 2+ Year Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    No, do not.

    Your personal statement is not your sob story. It is a professional piece of writing trying to market yourself.
  6. koffein

    koffein Banned

    Jan 25, 2009
    My understanding was that in the application there is a segment where you can explain any difficulties in life that you have overcome; things that have helped you grow as an individual. Thats what I meant.
  7. ButImLETired

    ButImLETired Prodigal member Moderator Emeritus 5+ Year Member

    May 27, 2008
    the hospital
    hSDN Member
    I'm afraid the safe bet here is to avoid any mention of that whatsoever. I also have a friend who was in a similar situation last year, he'd been clean and sober for years and had really done well academically after he'd gotten over his substance abuse problems- and his advisors strongly recommended he not mention anything remotely concerning his drug and alcohol history. Unfortunately, while I can definitely see why your friend would want to mention it, I think it's way too risky. Drug and alcohol abusers are statistically way too likely to relapse for adcoms to put themselves on the line and trust they will remain sober. Also, adcom members are human beings, oftentimes middle-aged, conservative human beings who come with their own preconceptions.
    So, I'd definitely suggest you avoid mentioning it altogether.
  8. RoyBasch

    RoyBasch 7+ Year Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    Avoid it. You know for yourself if something is really behind you, but statistically, as posted earlier, many people do relapse. This is something that would be especially concerning for someone entering a profession that is given the power and privilege to prescribe controlled substances.
  9. koffein

    koffein Banned

    Jan 25, 2009
    I see what you're saying and I have heard it before from other people I know well. At the same time its interesting that perhaps the most celebrated (albeit fictional) physician on this forum has gone through addiction - Gregory House. Even though physicians do hold that power of prescribing controlled substances, it does not seem all that reasonable to suggest that this should be a factor as they could lose practice rights if they were using those prescription rights to intoxicate themselves. It seems that a phyisician would be far more likely to go to the black market for drugs instead of prescribing to him- or herself.
  10. strv04

    strv04 2+ Year Member

    Jul 10, 2008
    the troll meter is going off especially with the dr. house comment above but just in case you are serious

    Did you tell the person interviewing you at your last job about how drug addiction made you a stronger person? If so how did they respond?

    How would you respond if you found out the doctor about to operate on a loved one was a one time drug addict? The vast majority of people in this country would not respond positively to such information and would most likely go elsewhere for care even if you are equal or better then your peers in every other respect.

    Odds are there are thousands of other candidates applying for med school that will have similar stats as yours without any drug problems. Imho writing about this or any other controversial issue is a good way to sink an otherwise decent application. In the end it's up to you but don't be surprised by the logical consequences of including such information.
  11. koffein

    koffein Banned

    Jan 25, 2009
    Your trollometre is getting a false positive.
    I wanted to gauge the overall opinion/attitude of people here.

    If the former drug-addict physician/surgeon was no longer abusing, especially for a long period of time, then there would be no issue. The only people who would be worried by this, imho, are those without a sufficient understanding of addiction. Even so, I understand how it could worry such people and why it would potentially be an issue with the patients' family.

    Over 40% of the population will at some point have a substance abuse problem... so I think its more a matter of applicants not disclosing rather than not having problems themselves.
  12. Habeed

    Habeed Banned Banned

    Sep 25, 2003
    Ok, having just got into med school, here's what I learned :

    I was honest in my personal statement and application. BUT, I realize now that the schools verified NOTHING. NOT-ONE-THING. All of my employment, my military service, my volunteer work, NOTHING GOT CHECKED.

    What was verified? My recommendation letters (from 100% professors I had), my GPA and my MCAT.

    And I guess if I had been lying during the interview they might have been able to tell.

    So, in retrospect, I wonder why the f- I did all that volunteer and military work? I could have just SAID I did on my application and be in the same spot today! Yeah, yeah, you can get caught lying...but the odds are slim to none.

    The moral of the story? If you don't have to tell the truth, sure as **** don't mention anything negative like a drug addiction! Dear god, that's a dumb thing to do!!!! And even if EVERY one of your friends knows you are a druggie, the medical schools are NEVER going to find out unless you tell them, you get convicted, or it's in your letters of recommendation.

    Moral of the story? When they say you need to be a well rounded candidate, know it's a big lie. You need high GPA, high MCAT, and you need to suck up to at least 3 people to get recommendation letters. Everything else you can MAKE UP. Just get a coach to teach you how to lie smoothly and effortlessly.

    Ok, I don't really recommend this....but it's frustrating knowing the truth. Only reason I didn't get into my first choice school was a single number, and nothing I said during the interview or said I did in my application changed anything. The school I got into, I was admitted because my numbers roughly met the averages they normally accept for people of my race and gender.
  13. Siverhideo1985

    Siverhideo1985 7+ Year Member

    Jun 6, 2008
    I must admit I know little about addictions of any sort. Including statistics of relapses, this problem in the physician community, etc. If anyone has some scientific lit, I'd be interested.

    I think, personally, I would not mention an addiction on my application, even if it was long in my past.

    On the other hand, I also feel that it would show extreme character strength to be able to disclose something like that on an application to medical school. I would be impressed for with the applicants dedication to honesty. But the risk of adcoms just shying away (when there are so many applicants who didn't mention any past addictions on their apps) is quite big, I would say.

    Who knows, though, maybe one of the schools that take a closer look would be intrigued by the applicants honesty and story of how he/she dealt with that part in their life.

    I find myself unusually torn about this issue...
  14. NTF

    NTF PGY-5 Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Jul 1, 2008
    Seriously, no. Unless, because of your experiences you founded a clinic that's helped thousands of people get off drugs, no one's going to see a story of personal triumph and reflection about addiction as anything more than a reason to wonder when your next relapse is coming.

    If your story amounts to I abused drugs, it affected my grades, got treated, now I'm better and have a better personal understanding, I don't think many adcoms will score it a plus for you as an applicant, especially considering how many narcotics physicians have access to.
  15. 8744

    8744 Guest

    Dec 7, 2001
    Are you ****ing crazy? As long as there is no record of your problem, or none that an admission comittee could ever get a hold of, bury this problem as deep as you posibly can and never breathe a word of it to anybody until you are safely matriculated into medical school.

    Jesus Christ.
  16. Habeed

    Habeed Banned Banned

    Sep 25, 2003
    And if there's a record that they might get ahold of, bet on them not. (if it's a criminal conviction, though, don't even waste money applying, of course)
  17. mbe36

    mbe36 5+ Year Member

    May 15, 2007
    NO WAY

    You will seem like too much of a risk. Plus, will this same affliction pop up under the stressors of the first or second year of medical school? Just don't.
  18. squrlgrl007

    squrlgrl007 2+ Year Member

    Mar 19, 2008
    This is like any other topic you write about in an essay (death of a loved one, being gay, ect). If it is your "launching platform" into the appropriate topic for an essay they have asked for (ie, Give an example of when you overcame adversity, how you did so, and how it affected you) then yes, it is a perfectly acceptable topic.

    Given that, I would make ABSOLUTELY SURE you convey that this is no longer a problem you suffer from, and that you make abundantly clear how you overcame the problem and that you did indeed learn from the experience.

    I think it is especially important not to seem like you are trying to hide the addiction if it resulted in an criminal proceedings, as that would only make things worse.
  19. bluesmd

    bluesmd 2+ Year Member

    Aug 18, 2008
    is in countdown mode
    no, it's to hard to negotiate sucessfully
  20. aznb0y129

    aznb0y129 Oh hamburgers! 7+ Year Member

    Jul 10, 2008
    Flushing, NY
    I can't believe this is even being seriously considered...OF COURSE DON'T MENTION THAT. More than likely, instead of respecting you for your honesty, they will toss your application into the Reject pile.
  21. lainey234

    lainey234 Member 7+ Year Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    Out of the cold
    I asked this very same question (different substance, same story) a few years ago when I was beginning to write my PS as well. I got the same litany of negative comments and sarcastic responses.

    I think what people who have no experience with addiction do not understand is just how powerful overcoming an addiction can be. It can change you and make you a stronger person in many ways.

    If it were any other circumstance (with maybe the exception of mental illness), you would rush to put it into your PS and tout your success. Unfortunately, people are so prejudiced against this topic that I think it would be a death sentence to bring it up. I would encourage my friend to steer clear of any questionable topics in the PS or anywhere else on the application. Take pride in your own accomplishments, but leave it at that.

    Best of luck.
  22. anoncurious

    anoncurious 2+ Year Member

    Nov 27, 2008
    I think this is completely incorrect. In general the public perception of 'drug addict' is no better than that of 'convicted felon'. It's probably one of the most horrifying things that you can learn about someone who you entrust with your life. Now, certainly there may be some unfounded biased opinions here, but I think that there is, in general, a well-founded basis for this interpretation: drug addiction shows a record of making bad choices as well as a record of having little self-control--both of which are terrible qualities that a person wants in their physician.

    You mentioned that you (or a 'friend') wanted to write about being an addict to explain poor grades in college. If anything that makes having bad grades even's not an excuse for bad grades whatsoever. I think if you write about being a drug addict you will never get into any medical school in the country. Any reasonable person would rip up your application immediately since, frankly, it's negligent on their part to let someone with that background anywhere near patients. I just hope for the sake of your future patients that you don't relapse like most people in your situation..

    (By the way - 40% of the population having a drug addiction does NOT mean that 40% of the applicant population has had drug addiction. 45% of people in the US have college degrees..that's not true of med students either. 12% of the population is over 65..that's not true of med students either. Compare apples to apples)
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2009
  23. drelizabeth292

    drelizabeth292 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2008
    SLC, UT
    it sounds like a bad idea to me. it would be best to find a way to make yourself sound very positive and stable enough to pursue a career as hard as medicine. i would think that a lot of the adcoms would think that you would not make it through the medical school/residency stress and that you would possibliy relapse. you do not want to give them any excuse to deny you this absolutely amazing experience.
  24. time md

    time md 7+ Year Member

    Feb 28, 2007
    I would advice against doing so. It would shine a very negative light on the applicant.
  25. atomi

    atomi Member 10+ Year Member

    Feb 6, 2005
    You're making excuses instead of accepting personal responsibility. It makes you look childish, so don't do it.
  26. majahops

    majahops YOU are great. 10+ Year Member

    Feb 18, 2006
    What about porn addiction?
  27. lainapox

    lainapox A little crazypants 5+ Year Member

    Jun 8, 2008

    It is fairly well established that an addicted mind is an addicted mind for a long period of time (biochemically- somewhat, behaviorally-very). You're more likely to become "re-addicted" (in the active-use sense) if you use, even if it is with the intent of only using once, after a long period of post-addiction sobriety, than you would be if it was your first time using (from what I've read, a lot of this has to do with dentritic spine formation during the development and maintenance of an addiction). Therefore, it seems to me that putting a former drug addict in a position that gives that former addict access to high-risk substances is not the best of ideas, even if that person's been sober and drug-free for years and years. It would, at the very least, be a worse idea (or a more risky one) than putting a non-addict in that position. I think ADCOMs might feel similarly.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2009
  28. Bacchus

    Bacchus SDN Senior Moderator 10+ Year Member

    Apr 27, 2007
    SDN Author
    No No No No No! DO NOT MENTION IT. Even if you're clean, I'd have reservations recruiting a future physician that had a past abuse addiction. Think of something else.
  29. AH11

    AH11 7+ Year Member

    Jan 8, 2009
    I'd sooner tell them I'm not human
  30. sunny1

    sunny1 2+ Year Member

    Jan 13, 2007
    a universal no.

    no no no no no no no no

  31. koffein

    koffein Banned

    Jan 25, 2009
    I think that basically sums up the concluding idea for this thread.

    My friend will discuss some other less meaningful life-experience instead.

    Thanks for all the replies.
  32. butterfly2684


    Feb 2, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2009
  33. Bacchus

    Bacchus SDN Senior Moderator 10+ Year Member

    Apr 27, 2007
    SDN Author
    You had a reason to report it. It was the only way for you to account for a year off, as you say. It would look fishy if you didn't report it, got to an interview, and then dropped the "bomb."
  34. drelizabeth292

    drelizabeth292 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2008
    SLC, UT
    HAHAHAHA :laugh:
  35. majahops

    majahops YOU are great. 10+ Year Member

    Feb 18, 2006
    Thank you for acknoledging my post. :)

  36. CIA21

    CIA21 5+ Year Member

    Jun 6, 2009
    I have a related question. I have been thinking about writing my ps about my mom's drug addiction, which has been ongoing since I was in the 7th grade. I've had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where I am, as my mom actually had full custody of me until I was 16. So, my question is, would it be bad to talk about her drug addiction?
  37. Rendar5

    Rendar5 10+ Year Member

    Nov 12, 2003
    that wouldnt' be a bad idea. I'd just be careful about how you word it. Lizzy would have a much better idea on that one. The OP's one though is a no-no :)
  38. FuturaDocta

    FuturaDocta Pop_Princess_MD 2+ Year Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    Off the charts
    LMAO! :laugh:

    OP, why don't you save this for something like a short essay prompt that asks for "something you have overcome"... etc.
  39. pietachok

    pietachok 5+ Year Member

    Dec 19, 2008
    When you apply for licensing as a physician after med school, in many states you will have to answer whether or not you have ever had substance dependency in your life. Depending on what your situation was, it can lead to difficulties getting licensed.

    Schools are very wary about admitting individuals who may face the problem of not being licensed, or who they fear might be a liability in the clinical experiences of the education.

    Although the relapse rate of alcoholics drops drastically after the 1st year, many addicts in recovery would agree that alocholism never actually goes away. Assuming you are not a 40 year old applying to medical school, insufficient time has elapsed for you to be at minimal risk of relapse. It is fabulous that you have been sober for however many years you have been, but you are still more likely to resume alcohol abuse/dependency than an individual without such a history. Given the option of so many un-flawed applicants, you'd have to have some amazing circumstances to make a med school risk an admission on you (who may have difficuly obtaining full licensing) instead of an applicant who doesn't pose that risk.

    That said, if you need to discuss a glaring issue on your transcripts, you can try to discuss alcoholism, in my opinion, as a "health issue" without disclosing the nature of the problem. On my application I handled depression/PTSD (another issue for licensing) in this manner, and I was not asked to clarify by any of my interviewers. Simultaneously, however, I was also very open about having had my undergrad grades marred chronic, non-ressectable tonsil problems, and wrote about my heart I kind of wonder if when i wrote "health issue" they thought I was trying not to go into details about GYN problems or something :p
  40. flip26

    flip26 2+ Year Member

    Dec 20, 2007
    Confessing to crimes is not a good idea, especially crimes that may haunt your licensing chances. Too many solid applicants with no such personal history for med schools to take a chance on you.
  41. BeardedRunner

    BeardedRunner 7+ Year Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    Wouldn't touch it with a 30 foot pole.
  42. Jolie South

    Jolie South is invoking Domo. . . Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    It doesn't ever go away. Addiction fundamentally changes the structure of the brain in irreversible ways. It will be a lifelong battle for anyone that has ever had substance dependence problems.
  43. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers SDN Advisor 10+ Year Member

    Mar 7, 2005
    You need to balance your need to tell YOUR story with your mother's right to privacy. Just as applicants respect the privacy of patients, you should be careful about too much information about a family member.

    You could say that your mother developed a serious, chronic illness that kept her from being able to be available to advise you and help you thorugh your early adolescence, that her inability to work and/or a drain on family finances created hardships at home and that eventually you went to live with [...].

    I'm embarrassed to read about applicants' dads who behave like governors ;) and similar situations.
  44. Lil Mick

    Lil Mick 5+ Year Member

    Apr 23, 2009
    The South
    I mentioned it, more or less detail depending on secondaries. I got into several schools. However, I think there needs to be a few years of sobriety and obvious changes in a person for it to work well (community service and strong credentials didn't hurt, either). Further, there are groups (AA and special meetings for physicians) at many hospitals/medical complexes.

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