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How to Spot Signs of Addiction in Your Patients

Discussion in 'Psychiatry' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Jan 30, 2020.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

    Mar 5, 2019
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    As a doctor, your first priority is the welfare and health of your patients, and their physical ailments and pains are normally at the forefront of your mind when you examine them.

    However, a far more damaging and harder to identify than any physical ailment is that of drug addiction.

    Due to the nature of secrecy that a lot of addicts cling to for fear of judgment, it can be very difficult for them to seek a medical professional with assistance for these issues. Many also feel that as a doctor your attitude towards the issue may be less than sympathetic and while every doctor has his own bedside manner when dealing with these kinds of problems, a little empathy and understanding can go a long way.

    However, the majority of addicts do not wear labels identifying them as such and subsequently it may not be obviously apparent that a person is struggling with addiction issues. Nevertheless, there are a few ways to identify a potential addict, and some of them are not medically related.

    As we said before, just being a sympathetic ear and letting them know that you are there to help them with any and all medical issues when they are ready, can be enough to make them confide in you.

    Let’s take a look at a couple factors that can indicate a person is using illicit drugs.

    Neglect of Treatment

    Addiction can make people do reckless things for their substance of choice: crime, prostitution and even risking homelessness are all potential indicators of addiction.

    However from a medical perspective, if a usually attentive and regular patient receiving treatment starts to become more erratic and less reliable with their treatments and appointments, this can be a sign that addiction is potentially starting to impact their life.

    Examining their pattern of attendance to appointments and treatments can give you a great insight into their behavior and any neglect of critical treatment should always be a priority to bring up with your patient as this can also begin to affect other areas of their health.

    In addition, if a person has a history of mental health issues then they should be considered a greater risk for potentially falling into recreational drug addiction. While absences of attendance to treatment can be due to their struggles with mental health issues, they should have an extra eye kept on them to ensure they haven’t formed a negative habit.

    Erratic Behaviour

    Drugs have various differents effect as any doctor will be able to tell you, a drug like cocaine, for example, would have wildly varying effects from a drug like heroin. Thus people’s mental and physical reaction to these drugs can be different depending on the person.

    However like alcoholism, there are common themes that you can take away from an addicts’ behavior, and that is that it will usually make them more erratic and their thought patterns can become irrational, especially if they are suffering from withdrawal symptoms. The specific type of erratic behavior, as we mentioned, can vary wildly from drug to drug and person to person. It is as important for doctors to keep an eye on their patients’ behavior as well as their physical health as people’s behavior can often give many insights into their health and can help you to identify addiction issues and related illnesses much faster.

    Ask Your Patient Directly

    Now granted, this should not be your first route to take with patients, particularly if you are unsure as to whether they are actually taking drugs or not. Slipping in a casual “do you take recreational drugs” as part of your examination is a harmless enough question, sure. But is also one that is unlikely to reveal any kind of truthful or useful information about that person’s drug usage.

    However, if you have taken all other factors into consideration and have determined that in your opinion, one of your patients is struggling with an addiction issue, then sometimes just having a direct talk about it can help him come to terms with his problem, and help you to prescribe the best course of action.

    It is important to understand that for many people, this will be a sensitive issue and just charging in with your best “stern doctor” voice is more than likely going to elicit a negative response. Try to broach the subject gradually by talking about them, how you have noticed their behavior changing and their symptoms worsening. Before actually asking them the question directly, clarify that you are their doctor, that you genuinely care for their wellbeing and that all of these questions are asked with the goal of helping them to deal with their issues, both medical and psychological, then ask them directly if they feel they have an issue with drug use.

    There are many treatment options available to recovering addicts, from counseling to rehabilitation. Whatever the case, getting these people to realize how much their addiction is affecting their lives is the first step to getting them on the road to recovery. So next time you are faced with a patient who is acting erratically and has a recent history of no-shows, rather than assuming just mental health is to blame, consider whether they may be showing signs of drug addiction.


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