Why physicians are unprepared to treat patients who have alcohol- and drug-related disorders

Acad Med. 2001 May;76(5):410-8. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200105000-00007.


Most primary care physicians do not feel competent to treat alcohol- and drug-related disorders. Physicians generally do not like to work with patients with these disorders and do not find treating them rewarding. Despite large numbers of such patients, the diagnosis and treatment of alcohol- and drug-related disorders are generally considered peripheral to or outside medical matters and ultimately outside medical education. There is substantial evidence that physicians fail even to identify a large percentage of patients with these disorders. Essential role models are lacking for future physicians to develop the attitudes and training they need to adequately approach addiction as a treatable medical illness. Faculty development programs in addictive disorders are needed to overcome the stigma, poor attitudes, and deficient skills among physicians who provide education and leadership for medical students and residents. The lack of parity with other medical disorders gives reimbursement and education for addiction disorders low priority. Medical students and physicians can also be consumers and patients with addiction problems. Their attitudes and abilities to learn about alcohol- and drug-related disorders are impaired without interventions. Curricula lack sufficient instruction and experiences in addiction medicine throughout all years of medical education. Programs that have successfully changed students' attitudes and skills for treatment of addicted patients continue to be exceptional and limited in focus rather than the general practice in U.S. medical schools. The authors review the findings of the literature on these problems, discuss the barriers to educational reform, and propose recommendations for developing an effective medical school curriculum about alcohol- and drug-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Curriculum / standards*
  • Education, Medical / standards*
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Needs Assessment / organization & administration*
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Physician Executives / psychology
  • Physicians, Family / education*
  • Physicians, Family / psychology
  • Schools, Medical / organization & administration
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology