Trusted. Respected. Knowledgeable.

How substance abuse may impact a professional license

On Behalf of | Nov 10, 2023 | Professional Disciplinary Defense

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reported that over 37 million Americans over the age of 12 were current drug users in 2020. Substance abuse casts a shadow over not only one’s personal life but also one’s professional career, particularly when one holds a professional license.

These licenses are essential for professionals across various regulated fields, including doctors, nurses, pilots and teachers. These licenses ensure that individuals meet specific standards of competence, ethics and safety. Substance abuse has the potential to jeopardize the ability to continue to hold a license.


Substance abuse can lead to ethical and legal violations within a profession. For instance, a nurse who abuses drugs may put patient safety at risk or breach patient confidentiality, potentially leading to disciplinary actions against their license.

It also severely impairs job performance, leading to errors, negligence and subpar work. This not only affects the professional but also poses risks to the public.

Some licensing boards consider moral character when granting or renewing licenses. Substance abuse issues, particularly those resulting in criminal convictions, may be something the board perceives as a lack of moral turpitude.

Public safety is often the primary concern of licensing boards. If substance abuse poses a threat to the public, boards may take swift action to protect the community, including suspending or revoking the license.

Reporting requirements

Many professionals must self-report substance abuse issues or treatment for addiction to their licensing boards. Failing to do so is something the board can view as dishonesty or a breach of professional standards, leading to complications when the board discovers the situation.

Rehabilitation options

Some licensing boards may offer rehabilitation programs for professionals struggling with substance abuse. Completing such a program and demonstrating a commitment to recovery can aid in retaining licenses.

Monitoring and accountability

Professionals who keep their licenses even if they have problems with drugs may need to follow some rules to make sure they stay on the right track. These rules might include getting checked for drug use regularly, going to therapy or counseling and having someone watch over them to make sure they stay sober and it does not impact their job.

Reapplication and appeal

Professionals who lose their licenses because of problems with drugs might get a chance to apply again or ask for reconsideration after they have finished rehabilitation programs and shown that they are doing much better. Whether they succeed in getting their license back depends on different things and what the board decides.

Using drugs can put someone’s job at risk when they must hold a professional license. It is important for licensed professionals to know the rules and how drug issues can impact their profession.