Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous are just that. . . anonymous. And physicians have a particular concern regarding anonymity because of the public trust required for them to function effectively. Simply put, we are concerned that, if the word gets out, others who don’t understand the program will derogatorily label us publicly as alcoholics and/or addicts, thus negatively affecting that public trust.
When I returned home after my stint in rehab, I was nervous about who I might run into at meetings, especially nervous about the chance it might be a patient. Also, I was concerned about what those who knew I was away at rehab might have said to others about me. In other words, I worried about my reputation. Unfortunately, at that point in my sobriety, it was still all about me.
In reality, what I was told at rehab proved true. First, 90% of others really don’t care one way or the other. Of the 10% who do care, the grand majority of them think better of you for what you are doing to recover. Of the very, very few who might think worse of you, they tend to be ignorant individuals that few others really listen to. The fact is that your sobriety gives you a wonderful chance to improve your reputation and even grow your medical practice. If you are working the steps (all of them), then you will gradually become someone that others will want to emulate (remember the promises?). As a bonus, you may have the privilege of caring for individuals you meet at meetings, patients who prefer to see a physician in the program.
The most important reason not to hide your recovery has to do with helping others (Step 12). Those in the community already respect you because you are a physician. When they learn that you are in recovery and witness your success, most will respect you in an entirely different way, and it’s quite likely that you will be approached with the opportunity to help others suffering from substance abuse/dependence, maybe even by other physicians. There is probably no better way to bolster your own recovery than to be there for someone else.
But please avoid two-stepping, rushing to help others without first working the steps yourself. If you are new to recovery and are approached to offer help, then you should engage others with more experience. Remain part of the process, just don’t try to handle it on your own.
Notwithstanding the above, it is not advisable to overtly announce to the public that you are an alcoholic and/or addict in recovery. That only invites some of those 90% who originally didn’t care about you to create an opinion, one way or the other, that you don’t want or need.