Four Keys to Diagnose Drug and Alcohol Addiction

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Doctors and other clinical professionals can play a significant role in helping to diagnose drug and alcohol addiction in patients and refer them to life-saving treatment services.

Although substance use disorder (SUD) is a growing national health epidemic, only 1 in 10 patients receive any kind of treatment for the disease, causing a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities. 

By learning four key steps to diagnosing SUD, clinicians can help close the addiction treatment gap and potentially save lives.

Learn the Warning Signs of Addiction

SUD is a pattern of symptoms resulting from the use of drugs and/or alcohol that a patient continues to take, regardless of any problems that result from their misuse.

There are several warning signs that can indicate a patient may be suffering with an SUD, including:

  • Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than prescribed.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but unable to.
  • Spending significant time seeking, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
  • Unmanageable cravings and urges to use the substance.
  • Unable to manage their work, home, or school because of substance use.
  • Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships and other important areas of their life.
  • Avoiding social, work, or recreational activities because of substance use.
  • Using substances again and again, even when it puts the patient in danger.
  • Continuing to use, even when it worsens a physical or mental health issue.
  • Increasing substance use due to evolving tolerance.
  • Withdrawal symptoms.
  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual.
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.

Even two to three symptoms may indicate the patient has a substance use disorder. Addiction is a progressive disease, so it is critical to refer the patient to treatment as soon as possible. The best course of action is to refer the patient to an addiction treatment program that provides a thorough assessment to ensure the patient receives the appropriate level of care.

Conduct a SUD Screening

Doctors and other clinical professionals can help identify addiction in patients and make an informed referral by following the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) method of SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment), which begins with a proper screening.

Use the screening to determine if substance abuse is present and to what degree it is occurring. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provides an online quick drug screening tool that can be used to ask screening questions and determine whether a patient has a potential issue with substance misuse.

Lead a Brief Intervention

After the screening, determine the degree of intervention that is required, based on the suspected level of SUD. Inform the patient about substance abuse risks and encourage the person to seek help. If substance misuse is determined, refer the patient for a more in-depth assessment and intervention through an SUD treatment facility.

Make a Treatment Referral

When an patient’s substance use problem meets criteria for SUD, it is important to motivate the patient to engage in dedicated treatment. As the care provider, you can make a referral for a clinical assessment at an addiction treatment facility. Once a level of care is determined by SUD clinical professionals, the addiction facility’s clinical care team should develop a customized treatment plan to meet the patient’s needs.

Referring a Patient to SUD Treatment

If the patient is open to SUD treatment, refer to a treatment center most suited to the patient’s needs. Valley Hope provides free clinical assessments and a full continuum of care, including medical detox, residential treatment centers, outpatient therapy, family care, continuing care, and recovery support.

Referring your patient to Valley Hope for substance use disorder treatment is a simple, efficient process. Medical and clinical professionals can expect responsive service and collaborative partners from admissions through the full continuum of care. Valley Hope approaches treatment under the disease model of addiction, with an expert, fully licensed clinical team that works with you and your patient to provide a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan designed to achieve successful outcomes.

Valley Hope provides a full continuum of substance abuse care including online addiction treatment through 14 programs conveniently located across six states including Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

To refer a patient to Valley Hope, call our Local Clinical Admissions Team at (800) 544-5101.