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What is an Addiction Specialist?


  • 1. What is an addiction specialist?

    Addiction specialists are addiction medicine physicians and addiction psychiatrists who hold either a board certification in addiction medicine from the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM), a subspecialty board certification in addiction psychiatry from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), a subspecialty board certification in addiction medicine from the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), or certification in addiction medicine from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). They demonstrate by education, experience, and examination the requisite knowledge and skills to provide prevention, screening, intervention, and treatment for substance use and addiction. In addition, addiction specialists can recognize and treat the psychology and physical complications of addiction. There are many benefits to becoming an addiction specialist:

    • Joining a distinguished community of physicians whose priority is the advancement of patient care and safety.
    • Now that addiction is more visible and commonly diagnosed, there is a bigger interest and need in having a better understanding of addiction.
    • You can save lives by helping bridge the gap of 20 million people struggling with addiction with only 4,200 specialists.  
    • You will have increased practice-based and clinical efficiencies, and enhanced communication with colleagues, patients, and caregivers.
    • Board certification increases annual income by almost $13,000¹.
    • Addiction medicine is a “self-designated specialty,” and has designated specific code (“ADM”) that physicians can select as their specialty, and that will be listed as such in the AMA Physician Masterfile.
    • Certification in addiction medicine is a credential that allows physicians to prescribe “narcotic drugs in Schedule III, IV, or V or combinations of such drugs to patients for maintenance or detoxification treatment.”
    • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognize addiction medicine as eligible for reimbursement.
    • Divisions of addiction services in several state health departments require that medical directors of public treatment programs be ASAM-Certified (the certification process that was the predecessor to ABAM’s processes of certifying physician specialists. These states include Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Other states such as Wisconsin, recognize ABAM and ASAM certification as a measure of physician knowledge and skills to treat patients with addiction and hold clinical leadership positions in state-certified treatment agencies and programs.

    ¹ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10263964


  • 2. What is an addiction medicine physician?

    “The addiction medicine physician provides medical care within the bio-psycho-social framework for persons with addiction, for the individual with substance-related health conditions, for persons who manifest unhealthy substance use, and for family members whose health and functioning are affected by another’s substance use or addiction.   Board-certified addiction medicine physicians are also board-certified in another medical specialty, prior to meeting requirements for board certification by the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM).

    “The addiction medicine physician is specifically trained in a wide range of prevention, evaluation and treatment modalities addressing substance use and addiction in ambulatory care settings, acute care and long-term care facilities, psychiatric settings, and residential facilities.  Addiction medicine physicians often offer treatment for patients with addiction or unhealthy substance use who have co-occurring general medical and psychiatric conditions.

    “The addiction medicine physician is a key member of the health care team and is trained to coordinate and provide consultation services for other physicians and to use community resources when appropriate. Some addiction medicine physicians limit their practice to patients with addiction or other patterns of unhealthy substance use. Others focus their practice on patients within their initial medical specialty who have substance-related health conditions.  Addiction medicine physicians work in clinical medicine, public health, educational, and research settings to advance the prevention and treatment of addiction and substance-related health conditions and to improve the health and functioning of persons with unhealthy substance use or who are affected family members of unhealthy substance users.”  Scope of Practice of Addiction Medicine, March 11, 2010; Copyright 2010, The ABAM Foundation, Inc.


  • 3. Who recognizes addiction medicine as a specialized area of medical practice?

    The American Medical Association (AMA), in 1988, granted the American Society of Addiction Medicine a seat, with vote, in the AMA House of Delegates. In 1990, the AMA recognized addiction medicine as a "self-designated specialty," and has designated a specific code ("ADM') that physicians can select as their specialty, and that will be listed as such in the AMA Physician Masterfile.

    The U.S. Drug Abuse Treatment Act (DATA) signed into law in 2000 (DATA 2000) recognizes certification in addiction medicine as a credential that allows physicians to prescribe "narcotic drugs in Schedule III, IV, or V or combinations of such drugs to patients for maintenance or detoxification treatment."

    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognize addiction medicine as eligible for reimbursement. Coding of Specialty Codes

    Divisions of addiction services in several state health departments require that medical directors of public treatment programs be ASAM-Certified (the certification process that was the predecessor to ABAM’s processes of certifying physician specialists in addiction medicine via examination). These states include Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina.  Other states, such as Wisconsin, recognize ABAM and ASAM certification as a measure of physician knowledge and skills to treat patients with addiction and hold clinical leadership positions in state-certified treatment agencies and programs.

    Many hospitals and insurance companies recognize addiction medicine and ABAM certification.


  • 4. How to find an addiction specialist?

    To find an ASAM member, search the ASAM Member Directory.

    Note that ASAM administered the exam for physicians to be certified in addiction medicine from 1984 - 2008. The American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) started administering the exam in 2010. Please contact ASAM to verify the certification status of a particular member.

    To find an ABAM certified physician go to the website of the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) and use the Find a Doctor tool.

    To find an AAAP member to the Patient Referral Program of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP).


  • 5. How to find a physician certified to prescribe buprenorphine?

  • 6. What are other resources about addiction specialists?