The role of the physician in addiction prevention and treatment

Psychiatr Clin North Am. 1999 Jun;22(2):489-505. doi: 10.1016/s0193-953x(05)70089-7.


With increasing pressure on general physicians by managed care organizations and the public to treat and advocate for drug and alcohol addicted patients, it is more necessary than ever that physicians have the knowledge and skills to appropriately address this segment of the population. Specifically, physicians need a better understanding of the prevalence of alcohol and drug dependence in a variety of populations, along with increased awareness of the economic impact of addictive illnesses on our society. Routine screening questions should be incorporated into patient encounters, and physicians should be able to identify environments that may pose a risk for the development of addiction. Physicians need training and practice in referring patients to treatment teams, monitoring patients in recovery, and providing interventions that will eliminate or reduce substance abuse before it becomes addiction. The treatment outcomes in abstinence-based programs, particularly those combined with referral to AA, have been encouraging, demonstrating that addiction is a treatable illness and not a character defect. In addition, several studies provide evidence that addiction treatment is cost-beneficial, resulting in reduced medical costs, lowered absenteeism, and increased productivity. Despite these encouraging results, there is still room for improvement. Treatment is not always effective, and it is not sufficiently available to everyone who needs it. Addicted individuals are both stigmatized and marginalized, and many are too ill to advocate for themselves. Widespread recognition in the medical community of addiction as a treatable illness will contribute to a greater understanding of addictive disorders and reduce the stigma attached to the diagnosis and treatment of addiction. For this to occur, better training for physicians in the recognition and management of addictive disorders, starting at the medical school level, is necessary. The approval of addiction medicine as a clinical specialty by the American Medical Association also has helped to advance the legitimacy of addiction as a treatable illness, and provides a focal point for the synthesis and integration of clinical, teaching, and research activities central to addiction medicine. The combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes outlined in the article will go a long way toward increasing physicians' abilities to assist their patients with recovery from addiction.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / economics
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine / trends
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Physician's Role*
  • Prevalence
  • Rehabilitation / economics
  • Specialization
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / economics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • United States / epidemiology