Addictions captivate both mind and body, becoming destructive center points of an individual’s life. The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive use, in spite of negative consequences. Common addictions and addictive behaviors include drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, sex, gambling, shopping and the Internet. The people that help individuals battle and defeat these hurdles in life are known as addiction psychiatrists.
Similar to all psychiatric specialties, Addiction Psychiatry is a complex profession, which requires an exceptional skill set. Stimulating both the left and right sides of the brain, psychiatry combines math and science-based medicine with behavior and emotional focused mental health treatments. This physician specialty can be emotionally taxing at times, but for individuals who are passionate about treating addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses, Addiction Psychiatry can offer a challenging and fulfilling career.
What is an Addiction Psychiatrist?
Addiction Psychiatrists are physicians, meaning they hold either a M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). They specialize in considering all potential effects of addiction on the brain and body through evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of patients. Since many addicts experience co-existing mental illnesses simultaneous, Addiction Psychiatrists must have strong knowledge in all areas of psychiatry.
A combination of extensive medical preparation coupled with a wide understanding of psychology and mental health is what enables psychiatrists to excel in their field. According to the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatrists hold even greater expertise in the areas recovery, prevention, identification, and treatment of substance abuse.
In their day-to-day practice, Addiction Psychiatrists may be responsible for:
Understanding the Educational Path to Become an Addiction Psychiatrist
A medical doctorate degree, psychiatric residency and Addiction Psychiatry fellowship are the primary educational requirements for a profession as a board-certified Addiction Psychiatrist. This educational path begins by receiving a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university.
As a result of this specialties’ complexity, a successful Addiction Psychiatry candidate will possess exceptionally strong skills in the math and science, written and verbal communications.
Educational Path of an Addiction Psychiatrist
Earn a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor’s degree is the first higher-education step toward becoming an Addiction Psychiatrist. Although Addiction Psychiatrists complete a broad range of undergraduate majors, students should complete the courses the American Association of Medical Colleges found most medical schools require as prerequisites: biology, physics, and chemistry; along with written and oral communication course study.
During their undergraduate degree, students wanting to gain an edge in the competitive medical school application pool would benefit from taking career and advanced education oriented steps like joining pre-medical organizations, completing community service at mental health centers, shadowing physicians and studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Students interested in Addiction Psychiatry may also consider taking undergraduate courses in addiction and recovery. Prior to graduating, a candidate should apply to medical school, a four-year process, leading to an M.D. or D.O.
Complete a medical school program
During medical school, future Addiction Psychiatrists spend their first year primarily in the classroom absorbing knowledge in areas like anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry, psychology, ethics and preparing for Objective Structured Clinical Exams. The second year, while still in the classroom, is more clinically focused. Third and fourth year students move into clinical rotations and are exposed to a wide range of potential specializations, including psychiatry.
Complete a Residency
Following medical school, graduates pursuing psychiatry should elect to complete their four-year residency in the specialty. Psychiatry residents need to complete 36 months of additional training after the first year of general residency, as required by the American Psychiatric Association. These three years focus on specific training areas, such as psychopharmacology, substance abuse and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Complete a Fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry
A one-year, post-residency fellowship in the subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry is pivotal for doctors aiming to enter the field. When searching for a fellowship, physicians should ensure the program they are pursuing is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and will both qualify and prepare them to sit for the subspecialty examination. Strong fellowships will provide advanced instruction and experience in comprehensive addictions treatment, including screening, diagnosis, behavioral therapies, pharmacotherapies, systems management, treatment planning and consultation.
Pass Sub Specialty Exam in Addiction Psychiatry
Upon successful completion of an Addiction Psychiatry fellowship, all psychiatrists must submit an application for examination. Once reviewed by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology credentials department, candidates are permitted to take the exam.
In order to sit for the certification exam, application must be certified by the Board in general psychiatry and submit documentation of successful completion of one year of Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited fellowship that began after the completion of residency.
Addiction Psychiatrists should be aware that board certification, which is necessary for legal practice, must be renewed every 10 years. Continued education is required in order to renew certification, and credits for the psychiatric field must meet specific standards. For more information about continuing education requirements, review the ABPN website.
Understanding the Career Path of Becoming an Addiction Psychiatrist
Opportunities for Addiction Psychiatrists are abundant in both public and private sectors. Professional often work at inpatient residential facilities, substance abuse centers, in private practice, with state or insurance funded programs or within the criminal rehabilitation system.
According the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), clinical research is another large area of growth and opportunity for addiction psychiatrists interested in substance abuse, and federal funding has been generous.
Addiction Psychiatrists may also teach courses to future doctors, the local community or physicians in other specialties, present research at conferences, write books and/or serve as evaluators for professional societies and boards.
Professional organizations can be used as a means for networking, community service, think tanks, research, continued education and specialized learning.
Addiction Psychiatrist would benefit from joining these professional organizations, which are directly related to their specialty:
For general psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) dominates the market with a membership of more than 36,000.
Although specific data is not stored regarding the subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics mean annual wage for psychiatrists is $182,660.While a 2013 Medscape report found average compensation for psychiatrists was higher the pediatrics, internal medicine and family medicine, it still ranked in the lower third of physician incomes by specialty.
Governmental mandates for addiction treatment have led to an increased demand for addiction psychiatrists. According to research by AMN Healthcare company Merritt Hawkins, psychiatry in general is one of the most in demand medical professions. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental disorder each year. Although psychiatric specialties have increased among medical residents, there is still a growing need for psychiatrists, offering a promising job outlook.