Even Our Doctors Should Never Stop Learning
Addiction and substance abuse treatment is a highly specialized form of medicine and counseling. Research has shown that physicians who do not regularly treat abuse and addiction are more likely to hold negative views about addicted individuals than those who focus their professional services specifically on treatment recovery. Such adverse opinions may actually hinder a physician’s ability to counsel patients effectively and/or refer the patient to a proper recovery facility. In a 2013 Substance Abuse study, investigators looked at how additional physician training could improve physician-patient engagement and result in more effective treatment plans.
Traditionally, medical doctors have viewed substance abuse and addiction strictly as a psychological condition. Many doctors typically believe that the issue is behaviorally rooted, rather than a biological condition that can be treated through traditional medical care. Modern research points to evidence that addiction has roots in both physical and psychological health issues, however. When an addict repeatedly uses a substance, perhaps as the result of psychological factors, it can physically change the way that the brain behaves, leading to an intersection of behavioral and biological factors.
The Effect of Addiction Education
The 2013 Substance Abuse study identified how prevailing attitudes about addiction among physicians who do not specialize in addiction treatment change when they receive supplemental education relative to addiction medicine. The results reaffirmed the hypothesis that substance use disorder education can impact perceptions about the addiction sufferers. Prior to, and following, the addiction medicine course, the participating physicians were asked to outline their attitudes toward:
- Patients affected by heartburn
- Patients affected by pneumonia
- Patients affected by an addiction to an opioid medication
- Patients affected by alcoholism
Prior to receiving their supplemental education, the doctors seemed to view the addicted patients much less favorably than those suffering from the strictly biological conditions of heartburn and pneumonia. After taking the addiction medicine course, however, the physicians’ perceptions of the addicted patients indicated a more favorable and understanding attitude than those held prior to the educational learning experience.
The results of the study are hopeful and seem to indicate that with proper education, physicians can learn to see past an addicted patient’s behavior, to both the underlying mental and physical issues that lay beneath. With more education and compassion, more physicians will be enabled to properly diagnose substance abuse disorder and prescribe an effective treatment plan, or refer a patient to a specialized recovery facility to begin the process of addiction treatment and recovery.
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