March 30th is recognized as National Doctor Day. Our team at Addiction Treatment Magazine wants to take a moment today to recognize all of the doctors who help individuals and families through addiction and recovery. More types of doctors may play a role in this journey than you may think. Here are some of the physician specialties and the roles they may take when it comes to addiction treatment.
Primary Care Physicians
Some people think of their primary care physician as someone who prescribes them antibiotics when they catch a cold, or who refers them out when a blood test comes back with abnormal levels. In reality, your primary care physician is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to identifying and treating substance use disorders.
When visiting a primary care physician, they are asking questions, conducting tests, and making observations that may indicate any type of condition, including mental health and substance use disorders. They also ask directly about alcohol, smoking, and drug use. Your doctor is one person with whom patients can speak openly about any substance abuse, without the risk of legal consequences. If doctors know of or suspect substance abuse or addiction, they may provide referrals to a treatment program or therapist, but they can also work with the individual directly.
Consider a patient who has been drinking heavily for many years. Their bloodwork may show signs of liver damage, which could indicate to them that their client’s alcohol habits are a problem. It may be dangerous for this individual to stop drinking cold turkey. Primary care doctors can help develop a plan to safely stop drinking that may include weaning, using medications, or enrolling in an inpatient addiction treatment program.
Emergency Room Doctors
Doctors who work in hospital emergency rooms are doctors who will see the most dangerous and devastating outcomes cause by substance abuse. People seeking painkillers to satisfy their craving, overdosing, or even dying right before their eyes. Emergency room doctors have to work quickly and efficiently to save the lives of their patients. Patients who are admitted with symptoms of an overdose may not be able to respond and inform the care providers what medications were taken. This makes it difficult to treat the problem, but an experienced doctor may be able to observe the symptoms and take what information they do have to create a life-saving treatment plan. The job isn’t done when the patient is awake. Getting the patient connected with resources to address the addiction and prevent a relapse could prevent the patient from ending right back in the ER.
In the case of a patient who is seeking pain pills, the doctor faces a very challenging set of decisions. They must do their best to determine if the patient is actually in pain from a physical ailment and in need of relief, or seeking drugs to get high and ease withdrawal symptoms. Should the patient be prescribed the medication, should they be referred to a drug and alcohol rehab, or both? All of these decisions and no idea how the patient will react if they are told “no.” If handled carefully, the ER doctor just might be able to get help for a struggling addict.
Many doctors attend trainings or obtain certifications to learn specialized approaches in treating certain conditions. Suboxone doctors are physicians who have taken the time to learn about safe practices for prescribing Suboxone for opioid addiction treatment and have been licensed as such. With skyrocketing rates of opioid-related overdose deaths, access to this medication just might save a lot of lives. The doctors who have taken the time to obtain the appropriate licensure are expanding access to this treatment option.
Addiction is rarely a condition that only manifests physically (ie: physical dependence). There is almost always a psychological aspect to substance use and abuse. Psychiatric doctors are trained in addressing the mental health aspects of addiction through both therapy and medication. Psychiatric doctors are well trained in addiction treatment and are often also highly experienced in the specialty. They can play a vital role in developing a holistic treatment plan for individuals struggling with various types of addiction.
Treatment Facility Doctors
While some doctors refer patients out to treatment facilities, other doctors specifically work along with an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. Doctors that partner with drug and alcohol rehabs ensure that patients have access to medications that can make their recovery journey safer and certainly more manageable. For many patients, the readily available access to proper prescription medications significantly increases their ability to get and stay sober because it helps them better tolerate withdrawal symptoms. These doctors are a vital part of treatment and rehab facilities that improve the overall care provided.
Thank you, Doctors.
The above-mentioned doctors are not all of the roles that doctors fill in addiction and recovery. From neurologists to doctors of physical therapy, nearly every doctor has helped a patient overcoming addiction in some way. These doctors are not just helping their patients, but they are also helping their patient’s loved ones too. So once again, thank you. Thank you to all the doctors out there who spent years studying and getting educated to help save the lives of others. You are all appreciated beyond words!