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ASAM Standards of Care: What Is Involved in Treatment Planning?


The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s (ASAM) Standards of Care provides the addiction specialist with a paradigm of treatment options for substance users. At the heart of the treatment modality is the planning process that designs the recovery journey to fit each individual patient.

This article, the third in a series of articles about ASAM standards of care, explores what is involved in treatment planning for a client with substance use disorder. What is the role of the addiction specialist physician at this stage?

ASAM-Recommended Treatment Planning for Addiction Specialists

The addiction specialist has a complex and challenging task, namely, to design an effective treatment that addresses the psychological, physical, and social influences behind the substance abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests clinicians can choose a variety of treatment options depending on the patient, including:

  • Individual or group therapy
  • Inpatient or residential admissions
  • Intensive outpatient care
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Medication
  • Recovery and peer support
  • 12-step

One of the most crucial pieces of the treatment puzzle is the expertise of the addiction specialist in coordinating these treatments to ensure an effective outcome.

Standard III.1: Coordinating Medical Care

ASAM lists medical treatment coordination as the top priority for addiction treatment specialists. Having the addiction treatment specialist serve as the hub in the wheel of what can be a highly disjointed medical treatment paradigm is important. ASAM says coordinating care means the addiction specialist is “ultimately responsible for addiction-related medical decision-making.”

Standard III.2: Providing Therapeutic Alternatives

ASAM suggests a best practice for addiction specialists is the ability to provide alternative treatments within the care spectrum. Collaborating with the patient to discuss the pros and cons of medication treatment, or helping them decide whether inpatient or outpatient care is better, are all part of ASAMs standards of care in this area.

Standard III.3: Evaluating Safety

ASAM standards suggest the addiction specialists must evaluate the patient and the safety risks to themselves and others related to their substance use.

Standard III.4: Addressing Comorbidity

Making sure all underlying comorbidities are addressed is also vitally important. Other medical problems and co-occurring disorders can complicate addiction treatment, and must, therefore, be considered carefully when crafting the appropriate treatment plan.

Addiction specialist

Standard III.5: Involving Social Support Networks

This standard of care also reminds the addiction specialist that substance use also negatively affects the people around the addicted patient. Thus, support services should be made available to them.

Standard III.6: Documenting Clinical Decisions

Documenting the thought and decision-making process by the clinical provider is crucially important. Documentation should include details about the patient and his or her unique situation along with the treatment options discussed. It should also document the treatment plan and the steps needed to lead the patient to recovery. These steps should be measurable and agreed upon both by the addiction specialist and the patient.

ASAMs treatment guidelines are an effective tool for addiction treatment providers. Treatment planning is the roadmap for clinical success; it can help the substance user with the steps necessary to free themselves from their affliction. It also helps the addiction specialist coordinate treatment across a variety of in- and outpatient settings. 

Are you a clinician trying to coordinate patient care with various addiction treatment options? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.

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