Many people at an alcohol and drug rehab facility deal with physical and mental health symptoms. During the detox phase, they may experience severe withdrawal and need medical care to minimize the effects of stopping alcohol or drug use. Approximately half of all people with alcohol and substance use disorders also have underlying mental health conditions that must be treated if they are to remain drug- and alcohol-free after treatment. An addiction specialist is a member of a rehab treatment team who helps patients in these situations.
What Is an Addiction Specialist?
An addiction specialist is a physician who specializes in caring for people suffering from addiction. They may work specifically as an alcohol or drug specialist, or they may treat individuals for both drug and alcohol misuse disorders.
What Are the Roles and Duties of an Addiction Specialist?
An addiction specialist has many duties as a part of an alcohol and drug rehab team. They include:
- Discussing medical history and past substance use with those newly enrolled in rehab
- Creating a treatment plan to manage a person’s physical and mental health symptoms during detox
- Monitoring the vital signs of people undergoing detox
- Administering medications and other interventions to ease withdrawal symptoms while the body adjusts to functioning without drugs and alcohol
- Providing life-saving care if a person experiences severe withdrawal symptoms
- Diagnosing underlying mental health problems that contributed to substance use, such as depression or anxiety
- Developing treatment plans for mental health disorders, which may include medications and therapy
- Recommending self-care techniques and lifestyle changes to help manage mental health conditions
- Educating people about mental health problems and helping them understand how those issues may have contributed to addiction
- Tracking the physical and mental symptoms that people experience during the treatment phase of rehab
- Communicating with nurses and counselors about the physical and mental health concerns of people undergoing treatment
- Contributing to an aftercare plan that may include regular visits to a psychiatrist or general practitioner
The specific duties of an addiction specialist vary from treatment center to treatment center. At large centers, they may work on a team alongside other addiction specialists. Smaller rehab centers may only have one alcohol and drug specialist on staff.
Is There a License for Addiction Specialist Careers?
Every state requires physicians to hold a license. To qualify for licensing, candidates must hold either a Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree. They must also take a lengthy licensing examination and pass a criminal background check. States issue a license for a set length of time. To renew their physician license, an addiction specialist will usually need to complete continuing education courses related to their specialty.
Are There Addiction Specialist Certifications?
Employment as an addiction specialist usually requires certification in a medical specialty related to drug and alcohol dependency. Doctors can pursue one of the following certifications.
Addiction Medicine Subspecialty
The American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) offers a sub-specialization in Addiction Medicine. Individuals who pursue this certification typically work in both detox and treatment. To get this credential, doctors must first obtain Public Health and General Preventive Medicine certification from the ABPM by completing a residency that lasts two or more years. After that, they participate in a fellowship that involves at least 1,920 hours of clinical experience treating people with addiction.
The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) offers a sub-specialization in Addiction Psychiatry. This certification is ideal for an addiction specialist who will focus primarily on treating underlying mental health conditions that contribute to addiction. A prospective alcohol and drug specialist who pursues this credential must first complete a residency and pass an examination to become a board-certified psychiatrist. Then, they participate in a fellowship that lasts for at least one year and take a second exam.
Addiction Medicine Specialist
The American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) offers the Addiction Medicine Specialist certification for medical doctors and osteopaths. This certification allows doctors to care for people during both the detox and treatment phases of rehab. To qualify, candidates must first gain Public Health and General Preventive Medicine certification from the ABPM. Then, they participate in a fellowship and take an examination.
What Is the Career Ladder for an Addiction Specialist?
An addiction specialist first earns an undergraduate degree and then completes a Medical Doctor or Doctor of Osteopathy degree program. Usually, it takes eight years to finish the necessary schooling. At this point, they usually apply for their license to practice medicine and then participate in a residency followed by a fellowship.
At large treatment centers, addiction specialists may advance in their careers, eventually becoming the direct supervisor of other specialists as well as nurses and other healthcare providers. In some cases, an addiction specialist may go on to serve as an administrator for a treatment center and become responsible for managing the staff, setting a budget and establishing care standards.
Is an Addiction Specialist a Good Job?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the need for substance abuse counselors will increase by 22% through 2031. Although the BLS doesn’t publish projections for addiction specialists, the growing demand for substance abuse professionals indicates that there will be a need for doctors to treat people undergoing treatment. Doctors who specialize in addiction medicine also earn lucrative salaries, which average $231,500 per year as of May 2021.
Is a Career as an Addiction Specialist Right for You?
You may enjoy working as an addiction specialist if you’re considering a career in medicine and want the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. A love of science and mathematics can help you succeed with the necessary schooling. Success as an addiction specialist also requires empathy, problem-solving ability and skill at handling people who may be angry or distressed due to personal trauma.
Meet Our Team of Addiction Specialists
At FHE Health, we have a team of experienced addiction specialists on-site and ready to help you deal with withdrawal symptoms. If a mental health disorder led you to begin self-medication with drugs or alcohol, an addiction specialist can diagnose and recommend appropriate treatments. To learn more about our inpatient and outpatient treatment options, contact us today.