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addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry

What Is The Difference Between Addiction Medicine And Addiction Psychiatry?

Over the last century or so, societal attitudes toward addiction have undergone several shifts. There was a time when alcohol addiction was seen to be a form of bad behaviour that had to be punished by the criminal justice system, the church, or both. Then we saw a time when addiction was regarded as a mental illness worthy of institutionalization. It was only in the twentieth century that we really started to look at substance abuse disorders as something that could be treated.

Detox centres started to crop up. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded. People gained the ability to reintegrate into society after recovering from periods of addiction. Many of these people decided to use their experiences to help others.

Although addiction is still heavily stigmatized, our understanding of it continues to grow, and treatment methods evolve along with our knowledge. We have moved on from the days when the same forms of treatment were applied to everybody. It is now well understood that everyone’s experience with addiction is unique, and that this uniqueness calls for customized treatment programs. This has led to the development of new approaches to treatment.

In today’s article, we will talk about two of these: addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry.

What Is Addiction Medicine?

Many forms of medical specialties exist. Doctors can choose to focus on a particular area of medicine, such as the heart (cardiologist), obstetrics and gynaecology (OBGYN), and the treatment of children (paediatrician). Addiction medicine is another such specialty. It is concerned with the medical prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of people with addictions to alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, and other substances.

Although addiction medicine has only been formally recognized since 1990, it originated several decades prior to that. In the 1950s, two women whose lives were heavily impacted by alcohol addiction founded an organization for doctors who were interested in the treatment of addiction. Many members were doctors who themselves were in addiction recovery and had decided to devote their professional careers to helping other people with addictions. About a third of the members of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) – the modern-day version of the original group – are recovering addicts.

What Is Addiction Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is another medical specialty that is concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of psychological, emotional, and behavioural conditions. More specifically, addiction psychiatry is devoted to the treatment of addiction from a medical and psychological perspective.

Like addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry has its roots in the formation of a group of interested professionals. Founded in 1985, the American Association of Addiction Psychiatrists (AAAP) has over 1000 members, all of whom specialize in the treatment of addictions.

What Is The Difference Between Addiction Medicine And Addiction Psychiatry?

On the face of it, addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry seem to be quite similar. Elements that are common to both include the following:

  • The two fields agree with the definition of addiction as an illness
  • They agree that treatment should involve a combination of methods that are customized to each individual
  • They agree that addiction involves a complex combination of medical and psychological factors, combined with the individual’s experiences and circumstances

Addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry are similar enough that there are psychiatrists who have a foot in both worlds, but there are some notable differences.

Experience-Based Vs Research-Based Treatment

Right from the time addiction medicine started, many of its practitioners have been doctors in recovery. Addiction is an intensely unique experience, and there is something to be said for the idea that those who have never been through it cannot truly understand what it is like. Someone with both medical training and the experience of addiction would be uniquely positioned to help people with substance use disorders.

Addiction psychiatry, on the other hand, places more emphasis on research.  Practitioners intentionally study substance abuse and addiction and how this is linked with mental illness. Those who are working towards a career in addiction psychiatry participate in training programs that are focused on this area.

The Root Cause Of Addiction

While addiction medicine physicians and addiction psychiatrists agree on what addiction is, they differ to an extent on what the primary cause is.

ASAM regards addiction as a brain disease that affects people with a particular genetic predisposition. If you have the “addiction gene”, drug or alcohol abuse can trigger changes in your brain that lead to uncontrollable drug use.

AAAP takes the stance that addiction is a mental illness, or a symptom of a mental illness. There is an acknowledgement that genetics may play a role. Children of addicted parents are more likely to become addicted themselves, though it is unclear whether this is because of genetics or learned behaviour. Addiction psychiatrists believe that the underlying factors, such as depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are the bigger risk factors for addiction.

Medical-Based Treatments Vs Psychology-Based Treatments

research-based treatment
As the name suggests, addiction medicine takes primarily a medical approach to the diagnosis and treatment of addiction disorders. There is a focus on the impact of substance abuse to the body. Those receiving treatment may be subjected to physical exams, bloodwork and lab tests, both during diagnosis, and to monitor progress. The relationship between addiction and mental health is not ignored, though, and treatment generally includes various forms of therapy with the relevant practitioners.

Addiction psychiatry takes more of a psychological approach. There is a focus on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses that coexist with the addiction, whether they were an underlying cause or a consequence. Just as addiction medicine considers mental health, so too does addiction psychiatry consider physical health. Practitioners are concerned with treating the addiction while also ensuring that the individual is able to improve or maintain their physical health.

Getting Help For An Addiction

It would be understandable for anyone to question which one is better – addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry. The answer is that there is no answer – at least, there is not the same answer for everybody. We are all unique, and no two addiction stories look the same. Different people respond to different methods of treatment. At Addiction Rehab Toronto, we will work with you to determine a treatment plan that works for you. Give us a call today, and we will get you on the path to healing that is right for you.