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Addressing Substance Use Disorders in Primary Care

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Some people experiencing symptoms of addiction are often experts at hiding it from their closest friends and family. Loved ones can be fooled and sometimes even ignore the early warning signs.  Even when the addiction progresses, the change has been so incremental that it can be hard to discern.

Unfortunately, some are so good at hiding their symptoms that medical professionals can be duped as well, and sometimes misdiagnosis what’s actually happening to someone behaving in such a way. This can make addressing substance misuse in a primary care setting challenging.

Up to 70% of people experiencing substance use disorders also present with emotional and other mental illness symptoms. This is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis.

Early identification and awareness significantly improves outcomes. A great place to start is with the World Health Organization’s screening tool. Abbreviated as “SBIRT,” the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment tool should only take a few minutes to use and it can be administered by a nurse or support staff, and could save time and lives. SBIRT is currently being used in a number of primary care settings like doctor’s offices, emergency departments and school settings. There is an excellent resource online to provide this training and could be worth a look.  Head to for more information on SBIRT.

Perhaps the best course of action for medical professionals is the idea of knowing your patients and resources. Maintaining relationships with addiction specialists and treatment resources in your local city or county can only help treating those battling with addiction. There are new and valuable tools and resources coming to light all the time, and being aware of the latest trends ultimately helps the patient when assessed, especially when new symptoms present. 

It is always important to avoid judgment, and to prioritize long-term health. The process should naturally produce options. Finally, assure the client that recovery may be difficult at first, but it is not only highly productive, but a key to happy and healthy living.

Concerned that you or your loved one may be struggling with substance use? Contact us to speak with an unbiased addiction treatment specialist for a no-commitment consultation. There is no shame in reaching out to ask for help or to talk about what some options are to quit or cut back on your drinking. It could be the most important call you’ll ever make.