Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Why You Should See an Addiction Professional Rather Than Your GP  

Why You Should See an Addiction Professional Rather Than Your GP  

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If you’re reading this article, then it’s fair to assume you know that you or a loved one needs help with addiction or substance dependence. Time after time we hear stories of addicts who have tried their best to manage their problem themselves, only to lapse and fall back into the vicious cycle of addiction. For your best chance at a life in recovery, you need to find someone who can help.

Ok, so that’s step one – you need help. But where do you get it from? In the age of the internet, there are an overwhelming number of websites, guides, and articles available to tell you where to go next.

So, let’s make it simple – to beat addiction and stay in recovery, you should see an addiction professional.

What is an addiction professional and how can they help?

‘Addiction professionals’ are a group of healthcare professionals who have training in addiction medicine. This can include doctors, nurses, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, and any other professional who has had specific training in treating addictions.

The treatment of addiction can differ greatly depending on the substance of choice, the individual circumstances, and how serious the addiction is. When you reach out for help for the first time, your addiction professional will work with you to assess how severe your addiction is, what treatments are appropriate, and what resources may help in your journey to sobriety.

Here are a few places you can get in touch with for help:

  • An addiction physician
  • A rehabilitation centre
  • A psychiatrist who specialises in addiction
  • An addiction treatment centre

You could also reach out to your general practitioner (GP) for help, but there are a few reasons why seeing an addiction professional could be more beneficial.

Addiction professionals have a better understanding of substance dependence

Addiction professionals have undergone training specific to addiction in addition to their healthcare qualifications. This might come as speciality training, undertaking additional qualifications, or addiction courses for doctors, ANPs, and PAs.

There are many misconceptions about addiction, and GPs who haven’t undergone specific training may, unfortunately, accept some falsehoods without realising it. Common misconceptions about addiction include:

  • Addiction can be beaten with willpower alone.
  • Substance dependence is amoral.
  • All addicts are criminals.
  • Addicts have chosen to continue their addiction.
  • Addictive behaviours are purely due to the addictive substance.

For anyone who has suffered from addiction or knows someone who has, it’s clear that addiction is far more complex than the statements above would have you believe. Addiction can affect anyone from any walk of life and is incredibly difficult to recover from. GPs may not have had enough experience in treating addiction to realise that these are misconceptions and may not be able to dedicate enough time to ensure you have a successful recovery.

It’s key for addicted people that they receive unbiased treatment, without any risk of judgement from their treating practitioner. If you have a bad first experience with healthcare practitioners, it’s less likely that you will continue to attend and commit to a successful recovery. Addiction professionals will have far more time and experience on their side and can make difficult judgement calls such as when to write a prescription, and when to recommend inpatient rehabilitation for addiction.

It’s also quite likely that your GP will refer you to an addiction professional anyway – so why not skip this step and go right to the source.

Addiction professionals have better access to resources

Addiction treatment must be individualised to the person with the addiction. To obtain and maintain recovery, the addicted person will have different responses to treatment. By seeing an addiction professional you can guarantee that you will have access to resources such as:

  • Medication
  • Physical healthcare
  • Psychotherapy and CBT
  • Counselling for you and your family
  • Social workers to help with family and financial issues
  • Rehabilitation and treatment centres
  • Support and 12 step groups like AA and NA

Depending on where you live you may be able to access an addiction professional via free healthcare services, through your insurance provider, or by paying for private healthcare. If you choose to go private, you may have access to quicker treatment and a wider network of treatment providers.

Addiction professionals have training in communication skills

Talking about addiction is hard.

It’s hard to ask the questions that need to be asked, and it’s even harder to answer them. Addiction can make people do things that go against all their morals, and conversations about addiction might require you to discuss things that make you feel shame and guilt.

Therefore, it’s key to talk to someone who has training and experience in discussing difficult topics and having sensitive conversations. While all healthcare professionals can attend postgraduate medical communication courses, addiction specialists undergo additional training that is specific to the needs of an addicted person and their family.

Even then, doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician associates involved in addiction should regularly attend courses and seminars to keep up to date – which are available on sites like MedCourse and Future Learn. In these professional development courses, healthcare professionals can hone their communication skills, learn how to teach addiction medicine to future generations, and improve their leadership and management skills.

So, what’s the next step?

Now that you know why you should reach out to an addiction professional for help, it’s time for you to make that first move. If your addiction is seriously impacting your life and you’re ready for a fresh start, get in touch with a rehab centre to see how they might be able to help.

If rehab is too far, search for an addiction centre or addiction professional in your area and give them a call. Addiction centres will always try their best to help someone in need and will point you in the right direction to get help.

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Herfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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