Advice for Doctors dealing with recovery patients
This information offers tips to doctors who aren’t familiar with treating addiction. It is designed to ensure the person gets help quickly and is based upon the NICE (2011) guidelines as well as other peer-reviewed research.
Take care when talking with the person
Addiction affects everyone differently and can present a range of psychosocial issues affecting all aspects of a person’s life.
NICE (2011) suggests that when treating someone with suspected alcohol dependence it is important that they do so with empathy, respect and without judgment, taking into account their individual needs in any treatment plan. Studies show that stigma towards addiction is one of the biggest barriers to successful recovery.
Social/Community support is important
The NICE (2011) guidelines state social support such as fellowship or community groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are a vital part of the recovery process, particularly for those without family or friends. During the appointment, it would be useful to suggest they join one of these groups. Studies suggest that when a GP encourages a person to join a recovery community it improves treatment effectiveness.
NICE (2011) suggests addiction can affect the people close to the addict. If the person also brings a family member or partner to the appointment try to assess their needs and offer support where necessary.
Alcohol dependence can be comorbid with other mental health conditions
Alcohol addiction often presents with other mental illnesses including depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar and borderline personality disorder. These conditions can lead to a range of negative psychosocial and treatment outcomes. If you suspect the person is showing signs of these refer them to a specialist straight away.
What to do if you are short on time
There is a shorter version of the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) called the AUDIT C. It has fewer questions and can be completed in 5 minutes and is just as effective at diagnosing as AUDIT in order for a patient to be referred to a specialist. If you don’t have time to do a full retrospective drinking history then using NICE’s CAGE questions may help you identify alcohol dependence.
If any of these measures come back positive a full AUDIT should be taken.
Remember that a person with alcohol dependence will need medical, community and psychological support to recover. Refer them to a specialist as quickly as possible to increase the chances of a positive outcome.