How medical professionals should treat drug addicts and alcoholics
Working with drug addicts and alcoholics
Health care workers are sometimes the first people someone with an addiction comes into contact with in early recovery, so it is imperative they have a strong knowledge of addiction and recovery. However, when it comes to treating people suffering from an addiction, drug addicts and alcoholics also need to be treated with respect and dignity.
Addiction is not a crime, it is a treatable illness. Addicted people are not criminals who need to be punished. They are sick people who need to get well. Therefore, addicted people should not be treated any differently than someone with diabetes or high blood pressure. Here are some suggestions for how to treat drug addicts and alcoholics, both medically and emotionally.
Medical principles and practices for addiction treatment
1. Promote abstinence
When treating someone with an addiction, it is important to stress abstinence from ALL mind altering substances. The body needs to heal both mentally and physically from an addiction and abstinence is the key.
2. Use alcohol and drug testing during treatment
Treatment programs recognize that alcohol and drug testing are an important adjunct for treatment. Many people relapse during treatment, so testing can help a person withstand urges to use and can detect use early so the treatment plan can be adjusted. No treatment plan is written in stone and can change throughout the coarse of treatment.
3. Complete a comprehensive addiction assessment
Make sure you do a comprehensive assessment to evaluate the person’s severity of addiction and their current stage of recovery. This also assesses any other disorders that the person may have.
4. Recognize cross-addictions
Many people with an addiction are not only addicted to one substance. That is another reason that abstinence is so important to treatment and recovery.
5. Recognize negative treatment outcome
Negative response to treatment includes aggression, attempted suicide, depression, and dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is when someone has a psychiatric illness as well as a drug or alcohol addiction. People with a dual diagnosis are more difficult to treat because many of the addiction characteristics mimic the psychiatric problem.
6. Realize recovery is a long-term process
Medical professionals treating someone with an addiction must always emphasize that recovery is a life long process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Doctors and nurses must be patient and understanding with the addict. And, most importantly, be a good listener. Sometimes that is all that can be offered is a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. Health care professionals don’t always have the answer, but they can listen.
7. Show respect toward the addict during treatment
The most effective programs for treating addiction are ones that treat people with dignity and respect during all stages of the recovery process.
Photo credit: Eva Blue