HomeBlogConditionsTipsWhat an Addiction Psychiatrist Can Do for You to Overcome Substance Abuse

What an Addiction Psychiatrist Can Do for You to Overcome Substance Abuse

Addiction is categorized as a mental health disorder in the DSM-5. Substance abuse changes the way the brain functions, alters the size of certain areas of the brain, and can have a profound and lasting impact on your ability to make decisions, avoid triggers, and manage stress.

There are several overlapping factors that can contribute to or exacerbate addiction, and given the complex nature of it, it’s important that you seek professional help in your recovery journey. What does an addiction psychiatrist do? What is an addiction psychiatrist compared to other psychiatrists, and when is it appropriate to use their services?

Who is an addiction psychiatrist?

An addiction psychiatrist is a qualified and licensed psychiatrist who specializes in treating substance abuse. Many addiction psychiatrists have unique training in this area of expertise, which can extend to things like trauma-informed approaches or recovery using specific evidence-based practices like cognitive behavioral therapy versus psychodynamic therapy.

addiction psychiatrist

What does an addiction psychiatrist do?

An addiction psychiatrist works with you individually to give you an assessment and potential diagnosis for things like substance abuse and other co-occurring mental health disorders. From there, they help you formulate a treatment plan.

A psychiatrist can provide services including:

  1. Withdrawal management to help you better control your withdrawal symptoms
  2. Prescription medications not just for acute aspects of substance abuse recovery but for any co-occurring mental health disorders
  3. Psychotherapy helps you develop coping skills or better understand individual triggers and causes that contribute to substance abuse.

The importance of treating co-occurring mental health disorders

An addiction specialist psychiatrist is in a unique position to help treat co-occurring mental health disorders. Co-occurring mental health disorders, sometimes called dual diagnosis, are when you struggle with substance abuse and at least one other mental health disorder.

Things like anxiety and depression are some of the most common co-occurring mental health disorders, and they overlap with substance abuse because of the way in which both can change the size and structure of the brain.

For example:

  • Someone who is struggling with depression might turn to alcohol to self-medicate. But eventually, alcohol consumption changes some of the brain structures and communication and causes increased depression.
  • Someone who is struggling with substance abuse might experience changes to the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, reducing their ability to control impulsivity, which could lead to problems with other mental health conditions or exacerbate symptoms associated with something like ADHD. 

Common co-occurring mental health disorders

Any mental health disorder can overlap with substance abuse, but there are a handful of common occurrences. 

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense mood changes, previously called “manic depressive disorder,” because the mood changes are either depressive or manic and can last for months.

  • Bipolar disorder often overlaps with cocaine or alcohol abuse for manic or depressive episodes. 


Depression is characterized by hopelessness, anxiety, and emptiness, no longer being interested in activities that were once pleasurable. 

  • Depression often overlaps with alcohol abuse to mask symptoms or try and stop them temporarily. 


Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, happens after a traumatic event and is characterized by nightmares, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, and recurring stress, nightmares, and insomnia.

  • PTSD often overlaps with alcohol abuse, sleeping pills, and benzodiazepines, as these can be used to relieve sleep-related symptoms. 


Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worrying and apprehension, which causes noticeable distress or interference with daily life. 

  • Anxiety often overlaps with cocaine, benzodiazepine, or alcohol abuse, as all are used to relieve or mask symptoms.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is characterized by recurrent compulsions or obsessions which cause noticeable distress in daily life. 

  • OCD often overlaps with marijuana and alcohol abuse, as both can be used to diminish or slow compulsions and obsessions. 

Can a psychiatrist help with addiction and mental health at the same time?

An addiction psychiatrist is qualified to treat both addiction and mental health at the same time. 

In some cases, it’s impossible to know which came first, the mental health disorder or the addiction, because there is so much overlap, and they both contribute to one another. However, a psychiatrist is uniquely equipped to diagnose and treat overlapping conditions, which can lead to more effective recovery outcomes.

If, for example, you struggle with anxiety and you don’t get treatment for it, even if you were to complete a program to detox from substance abuse, you would have a much higher rate of relapse when symptoms of your anxiety come back.

Working with addiction psychiatrists can give you a chance to differentiate between triggers and symptoms of your anxiety compared to those of your substance abuse so that you can better treat both as they each arise. 

addiction psychiatrist

Benefits of working with addiction psychiatrists

Can a psychiatrist help with addiction if you are struggling with substance abuse and relapses? Absolutely. There are several benefits of working with a psychiatrist for addiction. 

  1. Firstly, you get someone who has a unique understanding of how addiction works. Addiction is categorized as a mental health disorder, so you should receive support from someone who can offer guidance and practical coping skills. 
  2. Secondly, an addiction psychiatrist can provide personalized treatment plans. With many outpatient programs for addiction, the primary focus is on group therapy, but individual therapy with a psychiatrist can help you explore contributing factors using the latest evidence-based treatments.
  3. Finally, addiction psychiatrists can help you take a holistic approach focusing on the physical and psychological aspects of recovery, not just the physical recovery from addiction through detox.

Summing Up

When you are ready to work with a psychiatrist for addiction, you should consider things like:

  1. Experience
  2. Specialization
  3. Patient reviews

There are several fields or specialties a psychiatrist can have, and if you find a psychiatrist specializing in addiction, you overcome substance abuse for yourself or a loved one with professional support. Hope and recovery is possible. With the right support, you can get the skills you need to tackle co-occurring disorders or manage triggers today. 

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