Addiction Psychiatrist: Your Expert in Substance Abuse Treatment

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What is an addiction psychiatrist?

An addiction psychiatrist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse and the mental health conditions that accompany it. Addiction psychiatrists treat people of all ages who have addictions to illegal drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications complicated by coexisting mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.

An addiction psychiatrist typically:

  • Evaluates a patient’s medical history, history of substances the patient is using or has used, and mental health status

  • Diagnoses psychiatric diseases and conditions including substance addiction, depression, dementia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, sleep disorders, and eating disorder

  • Assesses a person’s ability to perform everyday living activities, such as eating, dressing and driving

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests

  • Provides comprehensive substance abuse treatment and addiction therapy, such as talk therapy. In some cases, the doctor will refer patients to a dedicated addiction therapist for more frequent counseling sessions.

  • Prescribes medications, helps manage their usage, determines if the medication is working, and monitors side effects

  • Provides detoxification treatment to safely wean patients off the substances

  • Consults with other members of a patient’s medical team including primary care doctors, neurologists, neuropsychologists, social workers, home healthcare nurses, and occupational therapists

  • Conducts involuntary commitment and psychiatric treatment when necessary

Addiction psychiatrists may also be known by the following names: addictionologist, addiction doctor, and substance abuse doctor.

Who should see an addiction psychiatrist?

People of all ages who have a substance addiction disorder should consider seeing an addiction psychiatrist. People with a history of substance abuse and who have a mental health disorder, such as depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder should also consider seeing an addiction psychiatrist.

In many cases, people who see an addiction psychiatrist are referred by an addiction therapist, psychologist, general psychiatrist, or primary care doctor. In addition, patients who are voluntarily or involuntarily admitted to an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center will most likely be treated by a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction.

Substance abuse itself affects your mental and physical health. If you or a family member is abusing or addicted to drugs, seeking help from an addiction psychiatrist may prevent serious and permanent mental and physical diseases, disorders and conditions due to excessive, long-term exposure to drugs.

When should you see an addiction psychiatrist?

Consider seeking care from an addiction psychiatrist if you abuse prescription medications, alcohol, or illegal drugs. An addiction psychiatrist can help you with the substance abuse itself as well as the following emotional or lifestyle-related symptoms: 

  • Feelings of needing to take the substance regularly and frequently

  • Inability to stop taking the substance

  • Irritability or anxiety when the substance is not available

  • Hiding your use of the substance from people who care about you

  • Exhibiting negative behaviors, such as lying or stealing

  • Losing interest in activities that do not involve using the substance, such as working, spending time with your family, and participating in hobbies you used to enjoy

  • Spending excessive amounts of money on alcohol, prescription drugs, or street drugs

  • Participating in risky behaviors, such as engaging multiple sexual partners and driving while impaired

What does an addiction psychiatrist treat?

An addiction psychiatrist treats the following diseases, disorders and conditions:

  • Anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and phobias

  • Dementia including loss of memory, language and personality

  • Eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia

  • Impulse control disorders including kleptomania

  • Mood disorders including depression and bipolar disorder

  • Personality disorders including antisocial personality disorder

  • Psychotic disorders including schizophrenia and delusional disorder

  • Sleep disorders including insomnia and night terrors

  • Substance addictions including alcoholism and alcohol abuse, prescription medication abuse, and illegal drug abuse

What does an addiction psychiatrist test?

An addiction psychiatrist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests to diagnose chronic and acute mental health issues in patients with substance abuse disorders. These tests include:

  • Imaging tests including X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to check for brain abnormalities

  • IQ and related tests to assess the patient’s thinking process (cognitive function)

  • Laboratory tests including blood tests to monitor medication levels, complete blood count (CBC), urine tests, blood glucose (sugar) test, liver function tests, kidney function tests, and drug testing

  • Testing for specific psychiatric disorders including mood, anxiety, psychotic, and personality disorders

What procedures and treatments does an addiction psychiatrist perform?

Addiction psychiatrists order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage substance abuse disorders and the mental health conditions that often occur with them. Addiction psychiatrists may help you recover in an inpatient rehabilitation center or on an outpatient basis in their private office or clinic. Common procedures and treatments addiction psychiatrists perform include:  

  • Detoxification treatment including supportive treatment for withdrawal symptoms and physical cravings

  • Involuntary commitment and treatment for extreme, uncontrollable cases of drug abuse and mental illness

  • Medications including drugs for alcoholism and narcotic abuse, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and sedative-hypnotics

  • Psychotherapy treatments including psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy, marriage and family counseling, and group therapy. The goal of addiction therapy and substance abuse treatment is to help you live a sober and drug-free life.

Addiction psychiatrist training and certification

Even if you are referred to an addiction psychiatrist by your personal physician or a therapist, you still want an addiction specialist with excellent credentials. Most addiction psychiatrists are board certified in the specialty, but a psychiatrist may practice addiction psychiatry without becoming board certified in the subspecialty. Education, training, experience, and board certification in addiction psychiatry are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence and make it more likely you will receive excellent care.  

A board-certified addiction psychiatrist is a licensed MD or DO who has completed specialty and subspecialty training, and passed certification exams. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology certifies psychiatrists in addiction psychiatry and the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry certifies psychiatrists or neurologists with added qualifications in addiction medicine.

To maintain board certification in addiction psychiatry or addiction medicine, the doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program. Keep in mind there are physicians who practice addiction medicine but they may not be psychiatrists. Search Healthgrades.com for a board-certified addiction psychiatrist or a psychiatrist who practices addiction medicine. You can research board certification, review insurance plans they accept, see patient reviews and ratings, and find doctors in your area.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Psychiatry. American Board of Medical Specialties. http://www.certificationmatters.org/abms-member-boards/psychiatry.aspx

  2. Addiction Psychiatry. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. https://www.abpn.com/become-certified/taking-a-subspecialty-exam/addiction-psychiatry/

  3. Certification of Added Qualifications in Addiction Medicine. American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. http://www.aobnp.org/addiction-medicine

  4. About Addiction Psychiatry American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. https://www.aaap.org/?page_id=120?sid=120

  5. What is an Addiction Specialist? American Society of Addiction Medicine. https://www.asam.org/resources/public-resources/what-is-an-addiction-specialist