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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.

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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


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2 Responses to “How medical professionals should treat drug addicts and alcoholics
What's the scenario?
11:15 am March 24th, 2011

I was treated for marijuana addiction and alcoholism in 2003. The doctors and nurses that I met along the way were well informed about addiction, and helped me understand it as a medical illness. However, they were also working with the federal government.

I don’t know how rural medical networks, or even busy urban hospitals train their staff, but I think that in-house training for addiction should be required for all doctors and nurses. Does anyone know if addiction training is a part of continuing education for medical professionals?

9:23 am April 26th, 2011

Nurses in many states are required to do continuing ed, but addiction training is not required unless that nurse is specifically working in that setting. For example, a nurse working in an inpatient addiction treatment facility may be required to do that. I agree that some form of addiction training should be encouraged for any nurse. I think it should be included in the nursing school curriculum.

About Nurse N Recovery

Nurse N Recovery has been an RN for 16 years. Most of those years were spent in Critical Care. 4 years ago, she became addicted to narcotics. She is now in drug addiction recovery and has developed a website to help others suffering from addiction.

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