What is an Addictionologist and How Can They Help?

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As the opioid epidemic and other challenges related to substance use and abuse continue to rise, the need for trained addiction treatment professionals remains high. Depending on your treatment needs, finding an addiction treatment professional skilled in addressing your unique treatment needs can be complicated. Today, there are several specialized roles in addiction treatment medicine, and it can be challenging to understand the differences between them.

What is Addictionology?

In years past, addiction was seen as a choice or a moral failure of the individual, and therefore, those who struggled with addiction were stigmatized and seeking treatment was often not an option. There was a common view that drinking or using drugs was something the addict could stop doing at a moment of their choosing. Fortunately, times and viewpoints related to addiction have changed. Addiction is now viewed as a mental illness for which treatment is encouraged. Addiction is a complex brain disease involving a compulsive need to use substances despite any adverse consequences. People who struggle with addiction have an intense and overwhelming need to use substances such as alcohol or drugs to the extent that it often takes over their lives.

Addictionology is the scientific study of the disease of addiction. Instead of considering only the psychological and social challenges that stem from addiction, an addictionologist will consider the person as a whole, looking at all aspects of the illness.  Viewing addiction as a complex disease instead of a behavioral disorder has opened up significantly more options for successful treatment at professional addiction treatment facilities like The Hills.

What is Addiction?

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), of the over 21 million people in the United States who struggled with a substance abuse disorder or addiction, only 10% of those will ever seek or receive potentially life-saving addiction treatment. Addiction is a complex condition that significantly impacts the brain and other body systems. Someone who struggles with addiction has an intense, overwhelming focus on using or obtaining drugs or alcohol. This focus is so strong that it often overtakes the addict’s life by limiting their ability to function or focus on obligations, responsibilities, or experiences outside of drug-seeking or using. Unfortunately, they will continue to use alcohol or drugs despite being aware of the adverse consequences that come with use and addiction.

People can become addicted to many things, including alcohol, marijuana, opioid painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, and tobacco, among others. Each substance has unique effects on the brain and body and the individual who uses it.

What is an Addictionologist?

You may hear an addictionologist referred to as “an addiction medicine physician.” Addictionologists are medical doctors specializing in providing medical care for those looking to overcome a substance use disorder. Their training allows them to take into account the full spectrum of addiction disorders rather than just the behavioral aspects of the disease. Addictionologists are highly educated physicians and are often considered experts in their field. They are required to complete an accredited medical school program and receive the appropriate licensing and certifications. The American Board of Addiction Medicine previously granted certifications for Addictionologists (ADM Certification), but this recently changed. Today, the American Board of Medical Specialists grants certification to and regulates Addictionologists.

Addictionologists bring to the addiction treatment profess extensive knowledge of the physical, psychological, and social effects of substance use disorders. Their training and expertise can help ensure your individualized treatment program is designed to help you manage and overcome addiction. Choosing to seek treatment at an addiction treatment center with an addictionologist on staff can be of significant benefit to your recovery success. The presence of an addictionologist means that the programs at your chosen center are more likely to incorporate evidence-based treatment models that are proven successful interventions.

Addressing the Full Spectrum of Addiction

Addiction is more than a physical or psychological struggle. Ongoing addiction can have a detrimental impact on all aspects of your life, from your physical health to your spiritual well-being.

Physical Addiction

Addiction can have significant, harmful effects on the human body. Chronic substance abuse can sometimes lead to physical and functional changes within the brain. Additionally, ongoing drug or alcohol use can lead to decreased functioning in vital body systems. Countless research studies have looked into how addiction impacts your physical health. A substance use disorder alters the way your brain works. Your brain uses neurotransmitters to send signals to the body regarding how you are supposed to feel or how a part is supposed to work. When you feel pleasure or joy, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of euphoria and happiness. When you consume substances, the brain produces an abnormal amount of dopamine. Depending on the substance, your brain will produce between one and ten times more double min as other natural activities such as conversation, eating chocolate, or experiencing intimacy with a partner.

Ongoing substance abuse causes the body to react to higher dopamine levels by stopping the production of dopamine. Eventually, the body builds a tolerance to dopamine, and you find you cannot experience joy or pleasure from “normal” activities resulting in a physical addiction.

Phycological Addiction

Addiction psychology seeks to understand the root causes of addictive behavior. There are many reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol. It could be boredom, anxiety, or a way of coping with painful symptoms of a mental or physical health condition. Studies show that as many as fifty percent of those diagnosed with mental health conditions also have a substance use disorder. Many addictions develop out of using substances to self-medicate symptoms of mental health. Unfortunately, mental illness and addiction tend to feed on or exacerbate (worsen) each other, making it difficult to diagnose and heal from both diseases.

Social Addiction

Specific social settings lend themselves to substance use. Bars, concerts, festivals, sporting events, and more often make abstaining from substances more difficult. These settings are what is referred to as a trigger. Triggers are physical, environmental, or emotional situations that can bring on intense cravings to use. Anything can be a trigger. Returning to a favorite location you used to frequent with friends, smelling a familiar scent, or spending time with a particular group of people can all be triggering.

An addictionologist can provide you with healthier, safer tools you can use to cope with triggers after completing addiction treatment at The Hills. Social connections are a vital part of recovery, but they are also a key factor in relapse for many recovering addicts. It is important to learn how to manage social connections while still practicing relapse prevention.

How Can an Addictionologist Help You?

The most successful addiction treatment programs are those that consider the person as a whole. Addiction is a disease that is unique to the person. Although two people may struggle with an addiction to alcohol or prescription pills (for example), the symptoms and experiences they have while using and while detoxing will be different. For this reason, your addiction treatment program must be designed uniquely around your specific needs and goals. There are many addictions treatment programs in the United States today. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists approximately 15,000 licensed addiction treatment centers. However, not all facilities are created equally, and not all are equipped to manage all types of addictions.

An Addictionologist is trained to recognize the full spectrum of addiction and how it impacts the person. As part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program at The Hills, an Addictionologist will be able to create a multifaceted, evidence-based treatment program designed to make your treatment more effective. Addictionologists are also able to better identify and address dual-diagnosis conditions. A dual diagnosis (or co-occurring disorder) happens when someone experiences the symptoms of a mental health condition and an addiction at the same time. As mentioned above, this can occur in as many as fifty percent of cases. Therefore, it is crucial to choose an addiction treatment program with a provider skilled in assessing and treating dual diagnosis illnesses for your recovery to be successful. Receiving treatment that only addresses one facet of your health will not be beneficial and often leads to relapse.

Treatment centers with a practicing addictionologist are also likely to incorporate extensive use of behavioral therapies into their treatment programs. Also, addictionologists are able to prescribe medications to help reduce the severity and intensity of withdrawal symptoms to help make the detox process more comfortable and manageable.

If you or a loved one are ready to overcome addiction, don’t wait. Seeking addiction treatment at a luxury treatment center like The Hills is the most significant step you can take for your health and safety. Our skilled, caring, and compassionate treatment team at our Los Angeles, California rehab are here to help design a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and goals. Our programs will help you with all steps of the recovery process, beginning with comprehensive medically supported detox through therapy and organized aftercare planning.

We understand the decision to seek treatment is complicated. Acknowledging you have an addiction and need help is not easy, and considering addiction treatment is often accompanied by worry and apprehension. There are many benefits to rehab above attaining and learning to maintain sobriety. As part of regular therapy sessions, you will start the process of Repairing relationships, improving your mental and physical health, learning about addiction, and finding financial freedom from the cost of addiction. Contacting our admissions team at The Hills Center in Los Angeles is the first step on your path to sobriety and recovery.




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