According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), there is 3,000 board certified addiction medicine doctors in the U.S. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says there are 21 million adults with substance use disorder. While the volume of addicted people is rising, the number of doctors to treat them is already operating at a deficit. This disparity is not expected to correct itself anytime soon.
Addiction medicine has all the elements of a popular television reality show:
But for the nation’s addiction medicine physicians, this is not TV; it is their job.
With the nation in the grip of widespread addiction, more physicians trained in addiction medicine are sorely needed. What is working in addiction medicine really like? This article explores a day in the life of a physician specializing in addiction medicine.
The shortage of doctors trained in addiction medicine means that primary care or emergency room physicians often take up the slack when diagnosing and treating patients. In some instances, these physicians may not be trained in the latest addiction medicine techniques.
Addiction medicine physicians combine their training across the disciplines of internal medicine, mental health counseling, psychology, public health, social work, and more to help patients recover. These cases have typically very complex underpinnings crossing bio-psycho-social lines, while also affecting the families of those addicted.
According to the Addiction Medicine Foundation, these physicians offer patients evidence-based treatment to include:
A typical day consists of seeing new and existing clients, conducting comprehensive evaluations, developing treatment plans, and monitoring existing plans. The American Medical Association (AMA) shadowed an addiction medicine physician who stated that the two most difficult parts of the job were getting insurance companies to provide coverage for needed patient treatment, and for the patient to accept their diagnosis.
Doctorly suggests: “Because of the complex nature of addiction and the various medical and psychological issues that could present alongside addiction, addiction medicine physicians are able to offer nuanced treatment of patients.”
Some of the types of nuanced treatment that the addiction medicine physician could prescribe include:
A day in the life of an addiction medicine physician depends upon their treatment facility. For example, they could work in a long-term care facility, a hospital ER, a psychiatric facility, or residential rehab. The addiction medicine physician could work solo, or, more typically, as part of a multi-disciplinary team.
No matter where care is provided, it is very clear that the US is in desperate need of more addiction medicine physicians to help stem the tide of substance use disorders as quickly as possible.