Content reviewed by Gillian Bieler, LCSW, CSAT, Clinical Director at ARC

Doctor shopping can be a risky practice. Addiction to prescription medications and worsened mental health outcomes occur when you bounce from one doctor’s office to another. Recognizing these behaviors in yourself and getting help for prescription abuse can help you avoid significant life challenges down the line.

What is doctor shopping?

Doctor shopping is generally defined as a patient seeking multiple doctors for the same medical concern. Researchers have come up with a few definitions of doctor shopping to clarify their understanding of this phenomenon. Each of the following definitions takes a slightly different spin on doctor shopping:

  • a patient seeing three or more doctors for a single illness
  • a patient consulting with multiple doctors during the same illness period
  • a patient changing doctors without a referral during the same illness period

Can doctor shopping be a bad thing?

Those definitions don’t reveal anything about a patient’s intention, and sometimes patients do have specific reasons for seeking other doctors. Some researchers attribute doctor shopping to ill motives, such as attempting to obtain controlled substances. In this sense, doctor shopping can sometimes be defined as:

  • a patient visiting multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions
  • a patient acquiring prescriptions for controlled substances from five or more doctors
  • a patient seeing multiple doctors during a short period with the intent to deceive in order to obtain controlled substances

Why do patients look for different doctors?

1. The reason could be physician-related.

Doctor shopping is an activity that patients engage in for many different reasons.

For example, you might be seeing a doctor that you feel isn’t giving you enough time to express your concerns and needs. They might have an unprofessional attitude, don’t take your concerns seriously or give poor medical advice. It’s okay to feel like the two of you are not a good match. This situation can occur with therapists as well.

In some offices, long wait times and inconvenient office hours or locations can turn patients off, causing them to look elsewhere for more accessible service and care.

2. The reason could be patient-related.

Alternatively, a patient may shop for a doctor because they continue to experience symptoms despite treatment. Others may not see any improvement from a chronic illness and are eager for answers. Not understanding a diagnosis and treatment plan can also be a reason for seeking a new doctor.

There are times when a patient has nefarious motives, such as obtaining multiple prescriptions for drug abuse. Doctor shopping is a traditional method to get a hold of commonly abused prescriptions such as Xanax, Oxycotin, and Vicodin. Benzodiazepines and opioids are the most common drugs found in these instances.

Who is likely to engage in doctor shopping?

Studies have reported several characteristics frequently observed in patients who doctor shop. Two groups of doctor shoppers—persons who use opioids and patients of primary care practices—have been found to have the following issues:

  • chronic disease
  • alcohol dependence
  • persistent symptoms
  • multiple comorbidities
  • mental health disorders
  • history of alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • active substance use disorders (SUD)

Additionally, these individuals were younger and belonged to a lower socioeconomic status compared to patients who did not doctor shop. These traits were notable among persons who misused opioids.

If you find that you relate to the following characteristics, consider reaching out to a treatment center for help. You may have a prescription abuse problem.

What are the dangers of doctor shopping?

Doctor shopping to acquire multiple prescriptions is risky behavior. Using medications in ways other than prescribed explicitly by your doctor is called drug abuse, which puts you at risk of developing an addiction. Although addiction is treatable, it is a challenging process to endure, and the journey of recovery is a struggle for many.

If you were being treated for a mental health disorder, abusing medications can make your condition worse and extend the time it will take to stabilize. This can result in increased medical expenses. When you switch doctors without a referral, your new doctor won’t have your medical history, which jeopardizes their ability to provide effective and efficient treatment. Spending time looking for another doctor also creates a gap in your continuity of care.

Finally, if you get caught, there may be legal implications for your actions.

Treatment is available for your prescription problem.

If you shop for doctors to obtain prescriptions, it is critical to seek a professional to evaluate the issue. Some prescription medications are highly addictive and can be challenging to quit without help. Don’t wait to get treatment for a substance use disorder.

At Authentic Recovery, we understand the challenges of becoming addicted to prescription medications, such as opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines. Our prescription drug treatment program provides the opportunity to detox safely and comfortably while getting the help you deserve in individual and group therapy. Treatment at ARC is focused on each patient and their individual needs. We’ll show you the path to healing. You take the first step. Call us today at (866) 786-1376