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Addiction Treatment and Rehabs for Pilots

Job stress is a leading cause of mental health problems and substance use disorder.1 Commercial airline pilots experience high levels of stress daily. Constant travel, time away from family, and being accountable for the lives of passengers can take a toll on mental health. Some don’t notice the effects of job stress until it’s too late. Some may try to take the edge off by drinking alcohol or using drugs, resulting in addiction over time.

A study focused on substance abuse in pilots compared to the general population found that 11% of the 5,321 pilots involved in aviation accidents had traces of illicit substances in their system, such as benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, and marijuana.2 Substance use wasn’t overly common in pilots, but trends in use matched that of the general population.2

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance misuse or addiction, treatment is available. This page will help you learn about common addiction treatment options for pilots and how to find a rehab to begin your journey to recovery.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) & The Human Intervention Motivational Study (HIMS)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for civil aviation safety. Established in 1958, the roles of the FAA include regulating civil aviation and creating innovations in aviation technology and civil aeronautics.3 They strive to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system.

The Human Intervention Motivational Study (HIMS) aims to enhance air safety through occupational substance abuse treatment specifically for pilots.4 The FAA and HIMS work together with healthcare professionals and managers to coordinate rehab for pilots and the return-to-work process.4

Once a pilot completes treatment, they can request FAA certification through a medical sponsor or aviation medical examiner (AME).5 The AME will ensure the pilot is in stable recovery after psychological and psychiatric examinations along with examinations specific to the FAA.5

Other Addiction Treatment for Pilots

There are several options for addiction recovery for aviation professionals. Everyone is unique, and no one treatment will work for all. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), individualized treatment plans are most effective as they address your specific needs and identify treatments that will work best for you.6 Common options for addiction treatment for pilots include:6

  • Medical detox: Medical detox involves ridding the body of substances (e.g., alcohol, drugs) while under the care and supervision of medical professionals. While not always necessary, medical detox can be an important first step in treatment, especially for patients who are at risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. After medical detox, patients can more easily transition into ongoing treatment (e.g., inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab).
  • Inpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab (sometimes referred to as residential rehab) offers a safe, supportive space to live while in recovery. While inpatient rehab programs differ, patients can expect to participate in group and individual therapy. Many programs last from 30 to 90 days, but some offer longer stays, from 6 months to 1 year or longer. Because inpatient rehab programs require patients to live at the facility, this type of treatment is often beneficial for those who need more intensive, structured care or those who do not have a reliable or safe living environment.
  • Outpatient programs: Outpatient programs vary in intensity and length. While a lower-intensity outpatient program may meet 1 time per week, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or partial hospitalization program (PHP) will meet more often and for longer sessions. Patients can expect to participate in group and individual therapy but will return home in the evening, rather than living at the facility.

A combination of group and individual therapy, behavioral therapy, and medication may be used in your rehab program for pilots. Some treatments last a few weeks, while others can last up to 1 year or longer. The length of treatment will vary depending on your specific needs, but studies show that longer treatment stays result in better patient outcomes.6

Specialty programs may be available as well, such as those that offer dual diagnosis treatment. When a patient struggles with a substance use disorder and a mental illness (e.g., anxiety, depression) concurrently, dual diagnosis treatment can be beneficial as it aims to address both conditions. Rehab for pilots that addresses both conditions at the same time can reduce the likelihood of relapse.6, 7

Finding a Rehab for Pilots

Whether you are considering inpatient or outpatient rehab treatment, keep in mind that facilities can vary. When looking for rehab for pilots, consider contacting the facility ahead of time. This way, you can inquire about their offerings, including specific accommodations and amenities you would like. For example, a private rehab for pilots may offer more support and resource than a public rehab.

You can start your search for treatment in several ways. You can contact your doctor or a mental health practitioner and ask for referrals or use a free tool like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) FindTreatment.gov tool.

You can also use our directory to find treatment options near you or out of state. You can filter treatment centers by location, treatment type, insurance accepted, and amenities to narrow your options.

For additional help, you can also contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) at . AAC has rehab centers across the U.S. and is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment. Our team of admissions navigators can answer questions you have about alcohol addiction treatment options, verify your insurance, and help you with the admissions process once you’re ready.

Frequently Asked Questions

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