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photo of female doctor beginning the medical addiction treatment process with a male patient.

Reputable rehabs will have their medical addiction treatment overseen by licensed psychiatrists and addictionologists. Addictionologists come from diverse backgrounds, such as psychiatry, internal medicine, family practice, neurology and anesthesiology. Because psychiatrists and medical addictionologists specialize in different areas, it is likely that you will see both types of physicians while participating in alcohol or drug rehab.


Medical drug addiction and alcoholism treatment begins with an evaluation by a physician to determine the substance abuse, medical and mental health history, and a physical examination and blood and urines tests. This process will allow the physician to diagnosis drug addiction and/or alcoholism, as well as any other comorbid medical conditions. Treatment for drug and alcohol withdrawal and any identified medical problems will begin immediately following the assessment. The addictionologist will likely provide some counseling and education to the patient during the first and subsequent visits.

Drug and alcohol withdrawal are treated by using medications that are specific to the substance(s) that is being abused. For example, for alcohol withdrawal, a sedative is used and for opiate withdrawal, an opiate is used. Along with the specific drug and alcohol detox medications, other medications, either prescription or over-the-counter, will be given based on the individual’s signs and symptoms.


The next step in medical addiction treatment for drugs or alcohol is to undergo a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. During this assessment, past and current mental health issues will be identified, and psychiatric treatment will be initiated, if and when it is appropriate. It is crucial to note that many psychiatric medications are also used in the treatment of addiction and other medical problems. For example, Seroquel, approved for use as an adjunct antidepressant, and for the treatment of mood swings (Bipolar Disorder) and psychosis. However, it is also used to treat insomnia and can possibly reduce cravings for alcohol and some drugs. The opposite is also true. Propranolol is used for blood pressure and heart rate control, but is also used to decrease anxiety. It is appropriate for the psychiatrist to provide some counseling and education during patient visits.


After drug and alcohol detox, most patients will continue treatment at a lower level of care, such as in a residential drug and alcohol treatment center. The drug addict or alcoholic may continue treatment at the detox center, or transfer to another facility for ongoing care. It is at this stage that the medical addiction treatment for drugs and alcohol will focus on the stabilization of all medical and psychiatric conditions, and medications for drug and alcohol cravings may be prescribed.


During residential drug and alcohol treatment, intensive counseling, nutrition and case management services will be added to the treatment plan and family therapy will most likely be recommended as part of the program. The physician and/or psychiatrist will continue to provide treatment planning oversight and will schedule regular visits with the recovering addict or alcoholic. Over time, the physician will decrease and eventually stop any unnecessary medications, as the patient gains stability and begins to recover.

Upon entering drug and alcohol detox or rehab, it is of prime important that the patient be completely honest with the physician regarding his/her drug and alcohol use, mental health history, and all medical and psychiatric signs and symptoms. This will allow the physician to provide the best care possible.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

Your decision to regain your life helps and heals your entire family. Do it for them. Do it for you.


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