Addiction specialists are physicians who have undergone extensive training in the study, diagnosis, treatment and management of all types of addiction - whether to substances, behaviors or activities.

Watch an Overview of Addiction Medicine

About Addiction Medicine

Addiction medicine attempts to assuage the societal and public health burdens created by addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and other substances, as well as activities and behaviors. This area of medicine commonly converges with other medical specialties as a result of its comprehensive nature of care. An addiction specialist (may also be referred to as an addiction medicine physician or addiction doctor) administers addiction-specific medical care to those suffering from addictions and addiction-related conditions and/or disorders. Addiction doctors are also trained to care for and treat family members whose lives have been personally affected by addiction.

Addiction medicine physicians may come from a wide variety of medical backgrounds including internal medicine, psychology and family medicine, among others. When treating patients suffering from addiction, these specialists will first focus on properly diagnosing the patient, which may include both physical and psychological examinations to determine the extent of the patient’s condition(s). When physically examining a patient, addiction specialists will often take blood and urine samples in addition to a comprehensive physical exam. During a psychological examination, the specialist will attempt to understand and document any psychological factors that may have contributed to the onset and continuation of the addiction.

By identifying both physical and psychological factors and complications, the specialist will be able to provide a patient-specific rehabilitation and treatment plan for recovery. The specialty of addiction medicine commonly encompasses certain medical processes or treatments, which include but are not limited to: rehabilitation, detoxification, harm-reduction, short term therapy, long term therapy (to prevent relapse), halfway house supervision and withdrawal treatments, among others. Common reasons for treatment by addiction medicine specialists/physicians include addictions to substances such as nicotine (primarily tobacco), alcohol, and both legal and illegal substances and narcotics.

Addiction Medicine Education & Training

Addiction medicine physicians are typically trained across a wide gamut of preventative, evaluative and treatment measures throughout various medical settings (such as ambulatory, acute and psychiatric care settings, among others). Educational and training requirements for this medical specialty vary throughout the country, as each state has its own licensing process. Physicians that practice addiction medicine have earned medical degrees (MD or DO) and typically specialize in mental health, psychiatry and/or psychology. The most popular path toward practice in this area of medicine has been psychiatry, with a subspecialty focus on addiction medicine. In July 2011, the first residency programs for addiction medicine gained national accreditation.

In a milestone for addiction medicine, the first group of medical students subsequently began their residencies, which are officially accredited by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Physicians are encouraged to voluntarily seek board certification from the ABPN which is separate from any state licensure requirements. Board certification from the ABPN illustrates that the physician has received the proper education and experience to provide patients with preventative, diagnostic, interventional and treatment services. Certification from ABPN also represents that the physician undergoes sufficient continuing education to practice in the field of addiction medicine.