Addictions are isolating. People struggling with an addiction may hide what is truly important to them from their coworkers, their friends, and their families. In time, only their dealers know them well.
Addiction treatment can be liberating. In a treatment program, people have access to an entire team of professionals who are all working together to make the addiction issue fade away.
At the head of that team are doctors. These are the medical professionals who can shape and guide the treatment program, so they play a vital role. Families may have questions about whether or not these professionals are truly qualified, and they may wonder what titles to look for in the doctors who will treat the family members they love. This guide can help answer those questions.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drug abuse and addiction are treated by people with titles such as:
Any of these professionals could hold a doctoral degree in their given field. And any of them could provide appropriate care for people who have addictions.
As long as they have a medical degree and the ability to write medical prescriptions, they could offer valuable care for people who have addictions.
People like this are supported by other medical team members, including nurses, therapists, and aides. The doctors shape the treatment provided, so they play an important role, but these other staffers help to carry out the doctor’s plans.
Treatment organizations typically hold interviews with their doctors, and they check on their education and references.
They may also require them to perform drug testing, and they may follow up with patients to check on satisfaction scores. These checks and balances should be reassuring to families. They ensure that the professionals their loved ones are working with provide the appropriate level of medical care.
Just as treatment doctors have many titles, they may have varying levels of experience. There is some evidence to suggest that higher levels of experience also come with higher levels of appropriate care.
For example, in a study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers asked general practitioners, psychiatrists, and specialists in addiction to answer questions about working with people who had addictions. They found that the higher the familiarity with substance abuse problems, and the more frequently people worked with those who had addictions, the more confident they were that their treatment really helped.
This study seems to highlight the role of experience. Someone who works in the addiction field extensively is likely to be more comfortable helping people who have addictions. Someone who just dabbles in addiction treatment without really working in the field may not be so comfortable delivering care.
Remember that many people who work in the field of addiction have decades of experience helping families in need, and that experience is proven to help them show empathy to those with addictions. A doctor like this may not have a specific degree to prove that background, but they might be more than capable of providing meaningful help. Just because a doctor doesn’t have this designation doesn’t mean that they can’t help.
At one point, doctors who wanted to specialize in addiction had no way to showcase their commitment to that kind of care. Now, there is a specialist degree available. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) says a physician addiction specialist must demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the diagnosis and treatment of addiction, and demonstrate an ability to work with patients and their families with empathy. Someone like this has taken advanced courses in addiction care, and this person shows a knack and the clear qualifications for helping people who are in crisis.
Someone who holds a specialty degree like this must also be a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO). That means this person will be able to prescribe medications as needed, and this doctor will be able to address any co-occurring conditions that might be contributing to the development or persistence of an addiction.
The American Board of Addiction Medicine has a tool that allows people to find certified doctors near them. Families that are interested in this specific type of care can use that tool to see if the doctors they choose have this certification.
A treatment professional should have a license to practice medicine. There are medications to be used, medical conditions to track, and referrals to write. A proper doctor will need to tackle all of those tasks, and a degree is required.
Next, the doctor should have experience in treating the addiction at play. It’s vital for them to know how these addictions typically develop, what makes them tick, and what can make them better. Asking about a doctor’s background can be a good way to make sure that experience is in place.
Finally, it’s important to have a good rapport with the doctor. An addicted person and their care provider will work together closely to make sure that all aspects of the addiction are addressed. This team will spend long periods of time together. It pays to make sure this will be time both parties enjoy.
In general, doctors who work in addiction treatment facilities can be trusted. They have degrees, they have experience, and they have knowledge. People who enroll in certified programs are in good hands. Asking a few extra questions can help families to ensure that they’re getting the very best help for the person they love.
(January 2018) Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states
(January 2014) Healthcare Professionals’ Regard Towards Working with Patients with Substance Use Disorders: Comparison of Primary Care, General Psychiatry, and Specialist Addiction Services. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Retrieved from from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871613003748
(July 2016) How to Identify a Physician Recognized for Expertness in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Addiction and Substance-Related Health Conditions. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved from from https://www.asam.org/advocacy/find-a-policy-statement/view-policy-statement/public-policy-statements/2011/12/16/how-to-identify-a-physician-recognized-for-expertness-in-the-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-addiction-and-substance-related-health-conditions
Find a Doctor. American Board of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved from from https://www.abam.net/find-a-doctor/