What Primary Care Physicians Can Do to Help Patients with Addiction

Updated on July 10, 2019

According to the Surgeon General, more than 21 million Americans suffer from substance abuse. Sadly, however, only about 10% of those seek treatment. As chaotic as addiction can be to a person’s life and well-being, it’s astounding that so few reach out for help. Though there are many factors that play a role in this including shame, guilt, fear, and denial, it is believed that the medical industry needs to step up – and fast.

Though not extensively trained in addiction treatment, primary care physicians are often at the front line in this epidemic. Patients regularly see their doctors for annual checkups and other medical reasons. Physicians, therefore, need to be more hands-on in developing a strategy that encourages their patients to improve their lives. 

How can doctors do more for their patients suffering from drug and alcohol abuse? Here are some suggestions below:

Get Educated

Again, primary care physicians have general training and education in all medical areas. Much time is not spent on expanding their knowledge of addiction. If doctors are going to help those that are suffering, they need to continually educate themselves on addiction. Look into medical organizations for networking, training, and other corporate events on addiction. Exposing yourself to these platforms enlightens you on subjects like signs of addiction, methods of treatment, and practices to communicate effectively with patients. 

Get to Know Your Patients

Part of providing a positive patient experience and building a strong doctor-patient relationship is effective communication. When doctors take the time to openly communicate with their patients about matters related to health, family, and otherwise, they create a safe haven. This safe place encourages patients to speak up when they’re struggling – even with something as difficult as addiction. Knowing your patients medically and personally also allows doctors to quickly recognize changes in their physical or emotional well-being that should be addressed.

Provide Recommendations

As a primary care physician, you may not have the necessary experience to help your patient beat addiction. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that you direct them to the right sources for assistance. Reputable facilities like a Utah drug rehab, an addiction counselor, or a 12-step program can guide your patient throughout the recovery process. Be sure to familiarize yourself with various sources and have informational materials to pass on to patients in need.

Be Mindful of Prescriptions

Medications such as opioids can be very addictive. Though regularly prescribed to treat high levels of pain, it must be done responsibly. Only prescribe what is necessary for the patient to feel relief. Express the importance of taking the medication responsibly. If a patient has already expressed a past or present problem with addiction or mental illness, it may be necessary to prescribe something different. Doctors should also monitor patients while on medications and refuse to write strong painkiller prescriptions after reasonable recovery time to avoid substance abuse. Lastly, educating patients on pain management practices can help them to get the relief they’re after without becoming dependent on prescription meds.


Recovering from addiction isn’t easy, to say the least. It’s a long, difficult road to travel. Whether a patient has decided to get help or not, following up can make a big difference in their lives. Schedule follow-up appointments to monitor their physical and emotional well-being, make periodic calls to offer support and check on their status and continue to keep the lines of communication open. This again, reinforces that safe haven between you and your patients. It also lets them know that you truly care about their overall well-being. Even for patients in denial or refusing to get help will appreciate someone outside of their friends and family rooting for their success and positive change. 

The addiction epidemic continues to rise with each passing year. It costs the country billions of dollars each year while also destroying and/or claiming the lives of many. To put a stop to this crisis, it is imperative that able-bodied and capable individuals take action. This includes not only the friends and families of those suffering from addiction but the medical community that treats patients on a regular basis. By implementing the practices discussed above, primary care physicians can do their part to improve the lives of others.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.