Addiction Psychiatrist: How To Find The Best Addiction Specialist?

Last Updated: July 6, 2020

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

There is an increasing growth in the number of addiction psychiatrists in the United States because of the upsurge of cases of drug abuse. An addiction psychiatrist is often recommended for cases related to the use of substance and dependency on drugs. Finding a skilled addiction therapist has become quite complicated due to the growing number of specialists in the addiction treatment field. It can be not easy for the patient to get the difference between addiction psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction counselors. Let’s take a brief look at the profession of an addiction psychiatrist to understand what it entails and how to find a qualified psychiatrist for addiction.

Addiction Psychiatrists: What Are They?

The term addiction therapist is one in which many people are familiar with, especially those who understand the effects and mental health implications of drug abuse. It is a profession that is closely related to rehabilitation and other forms of mental health therapy.
addiction psychiatrist writing prescription

Typically, someone in this profession should hold a medical degree such as either an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or perhaps a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).  Psychiatrists are also expected to have completed a residency program, secured a license and become a certified member of relevant boards.

What Are Their Functions?

A substance abuse psychiatrist may manage medications or decide to focus solely on conversational therapy and counseling. Some the abuse problem occurs with comorbid issues which are often complex. Hence a strong knowledge in psychiatry is required in order to manage these coexisting mental illnesses.
To understand the nature of drug abuse or mental illness, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction may take sessions with the patient to understand and document the history of the mental health issue. The drug addiction psychiatrist then creates a tailored treatment plan, inclusive on medications, 12-step programs, detox, relapse prevention programs and other forms of effective therapy in order to alleviate the mental strain and lift the dependency.
A psychiatrist addiction specialist may be responsible for the following therapies and more:

What Are Their Names?

Other names for addiction psychiatrists include:

  • Addiction psychoanalyst
  • Addiction clinician
  • Shrink
  • Addiction disorder analyst
  • Addiction therapist
  • Psychotherapist

There are other terms that are often used to describe people in this profession. Also a common question is what is an addictionologist? This is also a derived name for an addiction therapist. The profession in itself is extremely vast and comes with levels of variances which can be misconstrued at some point.

Difference Between Addiction Psychiatrist, Psychologist, And Counselor

There are so many similar terms in describing the same profession and yet there are similar names that describe slightly different professions under mental health. It is important to understand the clinical differences between a drug rehab therapist and a substance addiction counselor.  Here are the differences between 3 similar mental health professions.

Addiction Psychiatrist

This refers to a certified medical doctor who specializes in providing healthcare services to individuals with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Addiction Psychologist

Unlike the psychiatrist, a psychologist is a doctor on the bases of mental health training but is not a medical doctor. This means they are unfit to prescribe drugs, manage medications, conduct tests, and provide diagnosis and other clinical functions.
addiction psychologist office
However, a psychologist will offer counseling on the role of drug abuse in one’s life. Psychologists help patients become more aware of the impact of substance abuse. These professionals base their therapy on thoughts, feelings, consciousness, and device the best therapeutic approaches. Their methods include, but are not limited to:

A session may last for 50 to 55 minutes on every appointment.

Addiction Counselor

These specialists include other helpful non-medical licensed counselors. These set of professionals may be a higher degree of education up to the master’s level, but there are not any strict regulations. However, they may have acquired reasonable non-academic training or experience that makes them credible. Sometimes their functions may be similar to a psychologist’s responsibilities, but it mainly depends on the drug rehab policy.
addiction counselor during group therapy session
It is advised to seek treatment from a qualified medical psychiatrist for drug addiction in order to get the most professional services.

History Of Addiction Psychiatrists Profession

Psychiatry is a relatively new field in medical science and was only recognized in 1991 when the American Board of Medical specialization (ABMS), the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created a higher level professional certification for the profession – addiction psychiatry. This certification was to ensure adequate knowledge on the dynamics of this field before one could be certified.
In 1993, addiction psychiatry was endorsed as a sub-specialization, and it wasn’t until 1997 that the ABMS along with other health councils and boards renamed the committee on Addiction Psychiatry, enabling full operation. In 1997, only about 13 addiction psychiatry institutions were recognized by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Today, there are well over 45 residency programs located in the United States alone.

Addiction Psychiatrist Benefits

There are millions of people battling with the effects of substance abuse to various substances such as drugs, marijuana and alcohol. A report shows that every year, more and more deaths related to substance abuse are recorded. The age range of people found with abuse is between 12 years and older. Alcohol use disorder and underage drinking often lead to early dependency patterns. What is the role of addiction psychiatrist in alleviating these effects?

Talk Therapy

A certified addiction network doctor aims to identify triggers that prompt patients to indulge in their behavior and then develop a form of coping mechanism specific to the patient’s dependency. There are many forms of talk therapy frequently used in evaluation and treatment. One of the most recognized forms is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which enables a patient to take charge of their thoughts, feelings and behavioral pattern. CBT therapy equips patients with positive thinking and motivation, which expedites recovery.

Diagnoses Of Mental Illness

Substance abuse is often escalated by many contributing factors, such as an underlying mental disorder. Treating the mental illness alongside the substance abuse disorder improves the chances of complete healing rather than focusing on the abuse alone. The substance abuse professional understands the nature of these combined factors and conducts all forms of tests and diagnosis to find the root cause of the behavior as well as proffering suitable treatment to prevent relapse.
Smiling addiction psychiatrist

Medication Therapy

The addiction psychiatrist prescribes the most suitable medication and manages the doses administered in order to safely taper patients off the drugs as well as alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Medications greatly assist with recovery and should only be administered by a medical professional.

Finding The Right Addiction Psychiatrist

There are a few ways to find addiction specialist depending on the nature of the abuse or preferred proximity.
One way is to research addiction specialist nearby or state the particular preferred location. Another way is to ask for a recommendation from a medical doctor. One common way is to search for reviews and success stories on a particular psychiatrist; this will provide a patient with insight into the techniques used and how other patients have benefited from the program.
It is imperative to seek treatment from a certified addiction psychiatrist who has an up to date license for the practice. One may decide to see a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a counselor but these professionals must have the required expertise, training, certification, and experience in dealing with various levels of abuse and mental health issues.  The practitioner should belong to a board such as the American Psychological Association division and must have conducted related research and published numerous articles.
A great way to know is an addiction specialist is right for you is to review their professional website. The website has to answer certain questions: are the treatment programs successful? Is it evidence-based? Ask for comprehensive details on their treatment programs. Lastly, a phone conversation with the therapist or the institution can be arranged to enable one to gather as much relevant information as possible before making a decision.

Page Sources

  1. American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, About Addiction Psychiatry,
  2. R. Andrew Chambers, The Addiction Psychiatrist as Dual Diagnosis Physician: A Profession in Great Need and Greatly Needed,

Published on: November 5th, 2019

Updated on: July 6th, 2020

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


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