Psychiatrists can treat a wide range of psychological conditions, and while you might think more of psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression, many psychiatrists also can treat addiction. An addiction psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in helping patients with substance use disorders.
Is Addiction A Disease
There’s a lot of debate about this, and I think it’s important to truly dive in and understand why most medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, classify substance use disorders as a disease.
Let’s compare substance use disorders with another medical disorder – diabetes. While lifestyle choices can be reasons why a person develops diabetes, there are other factors that come into play including genetics, biology, psychology and even environmental factors.
We can look at two people with virtually identical lifestyles and body types and see one develop diabetes and another person never develop this disease so it’s not all about diet and exercise, although those certainly can be an issue. Additionally, while dietary choices might contribute to diabetes, those choices don’t take away the fact that diabetes is a disease.
When it comes to substance use, many people are able to drink alcohol or use drugs such as marijuana without ever becoming addicted to these substances. In many cases, a person’s biology, genetics and psychology all contribute to both using drugs or alcohol and becoming addicted to these substances.
It’s also important to keep in mind that substance use actually changes our brains. While we might make that initial choice to use a drug, if we continue using drugs or alcohol, this can alter the brain and once that occurs, a person has far less control of their ability to stop drinking or using drugs.
For those suffering from addiction, it’s important to understand that addiction is a disease and a chronic disease just like diabetes or asthma. And just as with those medical conditions, we can treat the disease and help a person live a healthier life. As an addiction psychiatrist, I have seen firsthand that substance use disorders can be treated and recovery can be successful.
How An Addiction Psychiatrist Can Help
While there are many therapists, counselors and psychologists in the field of addiction counseling, an addiction psychiatrist is uniquely qualified to help with addiction treatment, especially during the initial phases of treatment.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors as well as mental health professionals, and while they typically don’t provide talk therapy or behavioral therapy, they can provide you with a thorough diagnosis and treatment plan as well as diving into your medical history and psychological history to determine all of the issues you might be facing. It is important to identify any and all mental health disorders and medical issues before creating a treatment plan.
While a general psychiatrist certainly can be helpful, if you are suffering from substance abuse, it can be wise to select a psychiatrist that specializes in addiction psychiatry. Addiction psychiatrists treat more than substance use disorders, but they have additional training and keep up with the latest developments in addiction treatment.
Of course, many of their patients will have co-occurring disorders and an addiction psychiatrist can help with other mental health issues. For instance, a patient might have a dual diagnosis of depression as well as substance abuse or perhaps bipolar disorder or chronic pain.
In order for addiction treatment to be successful, we must address all of the issues and not just substance abuse. This is why I spend so much time on reaching a thorough diagnosis because it’s not just about helping someone to stop using drugs and alcohol. It’s getting to the root of all of the problems and finding ways to address each issue.
As a patient, it is also highly recommended that you also seek the services of a therapist or psychologist. A psychiatrist can provide you with a diagnosis and prescribe medications for medication-assisted addiction treatment, but it’s also crucial to utilize the power of talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. This combination approach tends to yield the greatest rates of success.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment
For some types of substances, there are medications that can help people maintain long-term sobriety. These medications do not cure addiction, but they can reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and reduce the craving for drugs or alcohol.
It might seem counterintuitive to use medications to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, but it’s important to remember that medications are used to treat many common diseases and the medications used to treat addiction have seen very high rates of success.
For instance, medications such as naltrexone and methadone have been shown to help alleviate cravings for people addicted to opioids. Naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram all have been used to help patients addicted to alcohol. Again, these aren’t cures, but they reduce the need for substance use and allow people to live better, more successful lives.
What About Telepsychiatry?
As a psychiatrist in Thousand Oaks, I see patients throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as in southern Ventura County. If you live outside that area, I can provide you with the services of a virtual psychiatrist.
Telepsychiatry allows you the freedom to select an addiction psychiatrist that truly fits your needs, rather than simply trying to find a local psychiatrist, which might put limits on your search. Additionally, many people prefer meeting with a doctor from the comfort of their homes and you can save time and avoid the hassle of dealing with traffic.
Call Me Today!
Even if you’ve tried multiple times to stop using drugs or alcohol, there truly is hope for a long-term recovery. Addiction is treatable, and I can help. If you need an experienced addiction psychiatrist, please contact my office today and let’s get you on a path toward sobriety and a happier, healthier life.
Dr Jesalva is a psychiatrist. He is in private practice in Thousand Oaks, CA since 1989. He successfully treats very challenging patients with varying co-occurring disorders with medications.