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Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by hillbelly, Mar 26, 2004.

  1. hillbelly

    hillbelly Member
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    Hello,
    I have been somewhat torn about whether I should disclose my history with drugs and alcohol to med schools or not.

    I am a heroin (among other things) addict and have been sober 7 years. The most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life have been related to my recovery and alot of my time has been spent working with other addicts and alcoholics.

    Today I am extremely grateful for my addiction. However, I fear that Med schools may look at my history as a liability. Few alcoholics are able to get and stay sober and physicians, I'm sure, are painfully aware of this.

    My question is this, would there be any legal implication for the school or the licensing board if I relapsed as a practicing physician if the board or school had prior knowledge of my history.

    All replies welcome
     
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  3. docmemi

    docmemi 1K Member
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    on a similar note, do med students and drs smoke (cigs, pot, etc) and drink? i know for a fact many do. what % would you say?
     
  4. Mr. Rosewater

    Mr. Rosewater Senior Member
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    wow, what a tough call. if i were in your shoes, i think i'd leave it out. i just think since you'll have constant access to drugs, the adcom members might not feel comfortable admitting you. that said, this decision is yours, and you need to look in your heart for the answer. as for liabilities, i can't imagine how a school could have any liability for your past.
     
  5. beanbean

    beanbean 1K Member
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    Do not include your personal history of addiction in your applications. However, you should definitely write about the experiences you have had working with addicts and alcoholics. Knowledge and understanding of the process of substance abuse and recovery is very important for a physician.

    Your own recovery is a personal matter and as you know can often be misunderstood by people who are unfamiliar with the process. There is no need to completely bare you soul to the admissions commitee. Simply knowing that this is an area of interest to you and a field that you have sought to gain clinical experience will be seen very positively.


    Congratulations on your 7 years!
     
  6. meanderson

    meanderson Senior Member
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    leave it out. Don't even think about mentioning that you have ever used heroin
     
  7. Sherif

    Sherif Hot stuff
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    but wouldn't they be able to spot signs??
     
  8. meanderson

    meanderson Senior Member
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    Possibly, but not everyone who has worked/volunteer in rehab settings is a recovering addict. He just needs to make sure none of his non-academic LOR's will mention anything about his recovery, which shouldn't be too hard. It would take an pretty crazed letter writer to throw that in a letter without running it by the applicant.

    Perhaps my perspective on this isn't the majority view however. I know that if I were on an adcom and was interviewing someone who claimed to be a recovering heroin/crack/meth addict, there is no way I'd support their application. But I'll probably never be on an adcom :)
     
  9. Spidey

    Spidey Leorl's official stalker
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    I'd leave it out. But it's your call.
     
  10. hillbelly

    hillbelly Member
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    Thanks for the feedback.

    While my experience with recovery would be my first choice for an essay on a life changing experience, or what have you, there are certainly other achievments and experiences I could share in my essays.

    However, in an interview I could end up doing alot of lying, which may be the most detrimental thing to my recovery itself, to hide my addiction. Questions such as--why did you drop out of high school in the ninth grade? what did you do for three years after you dropped out? why did you go to college in MN rather than your home state? Why was your first semester GPA 0.0 while your final two years were a 4.0?-- are all likely questions, which I don't think I could or would B.S.

    I would have no qualms leaving drugs out of the picture. My experience has shown me no difference in alcoholism vs. addiction, just different poisons.

    So, are the opinions the same with regard to alcohol and alcoholism?

    Thanks for the congrats.
     
  11. Sherif

    Sherif Hot stuff
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    I bet you can make a great essay on it and you could show how you changed and would like to help those people that went in the wrong direction in life etc...
     
  12. Paws

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    I would be yourself. You can write your application is such a way that it describes your life experiences without actually mentioning the addiction part. Like others said, your work and interest in addiction medicine, etc. should be enough. Medicine is so conservative, that even tho we all sometimes suffer from depression, or whatever, we're not allowed to really talk about it. Maybe that will start to change one day, but for right now, just skim around the topic. An asute adcom will understand what you're saying (without actually having said it), and the rest will let it pass by.

    Alot of times in life, it's best to let really importnant things be unsaid, but they can also be expressed by not saying the obvious. Funny enough, people often respect you more when you don't come right out and say it, too. Subtlety is key. I mean, the touchy subjects like alcoholism, depression, messing up a ugrad gpa, etc.
     
  13. Spitting Camel

    Spitting Camel Anteater for Life!
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    If there is even the slightest possibility that you could lapse, I wouldn't pursue medicine... don't just think of yourself.
     
  14. beanbean

    beanbean 1K Member
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    Indicate that you had a very serious illness to explain any gaps in your application time line or gpa issues. Would someone link those parts of your application to your ECs in addiction recovery and guess that the illness was addiction - perhaps. so don't try to lie or be evasive. Be upfront that you faced s serious illness and elaborate on what you learned from the experience, etc.
     
  15. AID- do you have ANY experience with drug users/ ex addicts? Where is this advice coming from?

    I'd be 80% honest about the problems you have had and that will make your 4.0 and 7 year sobriety even more impressive. However, I think partying and having fun and messing up is one thing, but heroin/meth/crack is sort of a separate category. Maybe you can subsitute alcohol and pot instead, making it less extreme. People generally have more experience with those, and are less judgemental.

    You really don't want to have to hide the trajectory you have followed and why you followed it-- when you get those questions, it will be horribly difficult not to be yourself.
     
  16. DrBodacious

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    I would not disclose past heroin use if your goal is to get into medical school. Whether or not your recovery has been a big part of your lifet, it is definately not something that any admissions committee will like. Just think about how many patients would be horrified if they knew their doctor used heroin. I'm not saying that is right for people to judge you like that, but that is just how society is, doctors are "supposed to be" upstanding citizens. It's similar to going into politics I guess. I'm sorry hillbelly, but this is going to have to be your little secret if you are going in to the mainstream medical field.

    What was going on in your life that made you start using drugs? I'd focus on the social and emotional aspects of your lost years, and leave out the drugs all together. i.e. you had no parental support, you didn't want to conform to society, etc.
     
  17. Mistress S

    Mistress S Don't mess with the S
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    I don't think this is very fair to the OP--there will always be at least the "slightest possibility" that he (or she) will relapse, just as there is at least a slight possibility that even the most upright boy scout pre-med who never touched drugs or alcohol in HS or u-grad will eventually become an addict, especially as an MD where you are in a stressful environment and surrounded by easy access to prescription meds. By this logic, nobody should ever take the risk and go to med school. The history of alcoholism in my family statistically predisposes me to addiction; should I also avoid med school because of this slight possibility? It is impossible to say with any certainty who is going to end up with drug or alcohol problems, at least the OP knows the challenges he will face in this regard and has already developed coping skills to deal with the temptation. I'm sure he has faced a lot of stress and challenges in maintaining sobriety for 7 years, and is the best person to judge if he can handle the stresses of med school without resorting to drugs.

    That said, I agree with others that you should avoid mentioning your heroin addiction in your app. This is a little beyond the pale for what adcoms generally deal with, while some may be sympathetic and respect what you have overcome, it seems likely that more would probably reject you for this reason alone. It's your call, and if it is such a huge part of who you are that you feel it would be dishonest to not explicitly address the issue, than do what you have to. But to me it seems too risky. You could address the problems in your app (GPA, etc) by being more general about your experiences ("partying", immaturity), without specifically stating that you were addicted to heroin; this would allow you to provide an explanation for these problems and discuss your personal growth without risking the stigma that comes with admitting addiction, especially to hard drugs. Don't lie, just be vague. If you discuss your work with addicts in your app, some adcoms may put two and two together; if asked directly, be honest but again I would advise against being specific (e.g., "Yes, I did deal with substance abuse issues myself" and then discuss the growth and rewards that came along the path to sobriety, without mentioning what specific substance you used or even that you were necessarily addicted to it).
     
  18. Spitting Camel

    Spitting Camel Anteater for Life!
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    I do have experience with people who think they are sober, have a bad day, and then use again. My concern was not that the OP shouldn't be trusted, but rather that if he doesn't feel he is at a point in his life where he is sure of his stability, then to wait it out. I should have been more clear and said "you shouldn't pursue medicine now"

    I would mention it for what it is, an experience that has made you a stronger, better person. Like the OP said, he will have to explain certain flaws in his application, and lying would be wrong.
     
  19. Anka

    Anka Senior Member
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    Yay for your seven years! Heroin's a particularly hard one to stop.

    I wouldn't mention it. I understand it can have licensing implications if you admit it later on. There's an essay in a book called "What I Learned in Medical School: Personal Stories of Young Doctors" edited by KM Takakuwa, et al. The one by "Linda Palafox" is by a recovering alcoholic, and she discusses many of the issues which lead her to hide her past history of addiction, while at the same time remaining involved in AA.

    Best of luck for your future.

    Anka
     
  20. evines

    evines peek-a-boo
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    I know I am being too idealistic here, but if you feel that your past addiction is an important motivating factor, don't be ashamed to talk about it. Any ADCOM that would look down on that, especially considering your current work with addicts, isn't worth their weight in crap.
     
  21. KatieOConnor

    KatieOConnor Senior Member
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    As someone who has had experience with addiction, I remember how when I entered recovery it was so meaningful to me, and it totally turned my life around. I really wanted to share these sentiments with others, at first, but then I realized that not everyone understands these things.

    Now for the most part I keep my history to myself. Sure, it would make a very honest and compelling essay, and I think some of the strengths I have gained, and the things I have learned will help me when I become a doctor.

    But, I want to go for a more conservative approach when I apply.

    Go with your gut feeling, and talk to a premed advisor if you can. My impression is, though, that while lots of people in med school deal with depression, and drinking issues, not many use, or have used, anything harder.
     
  22. Mr. Rosewater

    Mr. Rosewater Senior Member
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    it's been 7 years. i'm sure the person has had 1000's of opportunities to use again in that time. how much longer should he have to wait?
     
  23. liverotcod

    liverotcod Lieutenant Crunch
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    Recovery is an extraordinary process. Like becoming a parent, or finding new deep-seated religious beliefs, or (for that matter) becoming a doctor, it's hard for people who haven't been through it to understand what it's like. In _Iron John_, Robert Bly speaks of the need for young people to spend some time "in the ashes," and gives examples: For Franklin Roosevelt, his polio. For Anwar Sadat, prison. For Solzhenitsyn, the gulag. Others, like Steinbeck and Faulkner, had the Great Depression. He's specifically speaking of young men, but I believe his argument extends easily to both sexes.

    You've spent your time in the ashes and emerged from the other side. I'm with Mistress S, Eraserhead &c. Even after seven years, sobriety is a badge of courage that needs to be protected and cherished, not brandished. My application essay will definitely include a discussion of how drinking and drug use contributed to being "asked to leave" my undergraduate institution. But I'm not getting into details about the use... Far more important -- as you and other have noted -- are the lessons learned. For me, it's been 14 incredible years. It's too much a part of me to try to hide, but I don't feel like I need to be explicit. Best wishes.

    Edited to correct paraphrase.
     
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  24. lilgecko

    lilgecko Member
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    Hillbelly - Similar questions and experience...I pm'd you.
     
  25. indiamacbean

    indiamacbean Senior Member
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    I can't give too much advice on whether to disclose your past addiction and recovery story but I did just want to say a couple of words regarding use/addiction and medicine. For those posters that think that they will not be exposed to heavy drugs and drinking during their medical training and practice you are sorely mistaken. I just heard a talk from a rehab director that works with health professional rehab and he said that it is a pretty good bet that 1/6 anesthesiologists is using or in rehab. While it varies specialty by specialty alcoholism and drug addiction are an unfortunate par for the course of the medical profession. To all of you who encourage "hiding" recovery/addiction or even worse suggest that those who are in recovery are unfit to practice medicine I would hope that by the time your colleagues turn to you for help you will not turn a blind eye or just ask them to brush it under the carpet. It is only by bringing into the light that which makes us human and humane in medicine that we will be able to make help each other out.cheers
     
  26. Megalofyia

    Megalofyia 425 lbs and growing
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    Don't mention it.




    You don't necessarily have to lie. None of my interviews have asked me anything to do with highschool. Also there is stuff from my first two years in college I didn't feel like going into so when explaining my GPA for then; I just said that it was my fault and I was very immature then. Then I went on to describe the postitive things I've done. I didn't lie and I didn't have to discuss things I didn't want to.
     

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