Mental health and substance abuse are very much intertwined. It’s common for a patient to use substances to self-medicate for a disorder and even more common for a patient to hide their use. At some point, however, it becomes evident that your patient needs help outside of your care. Making the call to refer your patient to a drug and alcohol treatment program could save their life, but when do you know you’ve reached a tipping point, and where do you refer them? 

Watch for the Warning Signs

Unfortunately, it might not be evident at first that your patient has a substance use disorder (SUD) or that they are on the verge of developing one. Many people who use substances in a dangerous way hide their use out of shame or fear. There’s a chance your patient might even lie about the severity of their use or about using completely. This can make it harder for health care professionals to spot a problem early on. However, there are some warning signs to look for that might save their life. 

The DSM-5 covers SUD and its warning signs. According to the DSM-5, your patient might have a SUD if they meet at least two of the following criteria within the last 12 months:

  • They’ve taken the substance in larger amounts or for a longer period than intended.
  • They’ve been unsuccessful in their effort to control their substance use.
  • A great deal of time is spent on using and recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • They experience cravings for their substance.
  • They cannot meet their responsibilities for work, school, or home because of their substance use.
  • They continue using despite negative consequences resulting from their substance use.
  • Everyday activities such as hobbies or social activities are replaced with substance use.
  • They use substances in situations that are physically dangerous such as driving or operating machinery.
  • Continued use even if they feel sick or experience declining mental health.
  • Tolerance for the substance is described as either needing larger amounts of the substance, or the same amount doesn’t produce the desired effect.
  • Withdrawal is described as either the presence of withdrawal symptoms characteristic of the substance or the substance is used to manage withdrawal symptoms.

The severity of the SUD is determined by the number of symptoms present:

  • Mild: Two or three symptoms
  • Moderate: Four or five symptoms
  • Severe: Six or more symptoms
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Residential or Intensive Outpatient Treatment

The type of program your patient might need depends on the severity of their substance use. If they have a history of substance use and are experiencing a relapse, refer them to detoxification services. There are plenty of treatment programs in Hawaii that offer detoxification services

If your patient has tried to quit using a substance many times and has failed, they might want to consider residential treatment. If the substance use seems less than severe but is still concerning, it’s recommended to refer them to an outpatient or intensive outpatient program. 

When referring a patient to a program, consider their other needs, like workplace obligations, home obligations, and insurance. As their health care provider, you should have your patient’s insurance information. Refer them to a treatment program that is within their insurance network. 

If they are reluctant to attend a residential treatment program due to fear of losing their job or being unable to care for their children, consider this when referring them to a program. An intensive outpatient program will allow them to continue looking after their children or working while receiving treatment.  

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Consider Their Mental Health Needs

If you are their therapist or counselor, you most likely are aware of your patient’s mental health history and any present mental health disorders. When referring them to a treatment facility, keep in mind their specific mental health needs. Many mental health disorders co-occur with substance abuse; however, knowing which particular disorders they are diagnosed with or might have will help them during their time at the treatment center. 

Many treatment centers will screen their patients for mental health disorders before beginning treatment. Knowing if a patient has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety will help a center in their process of rehabilitation. Since trauma is common with SUDs, many facilities will even treat their patients with the assumption that they’ve experienced trauma at some point. 

Don’t Wait to Refer Them

If you’re concerned that your patient might have a severe SUD or they recently experienced a crisis related to drug or alcohol use, refer them to treatment right away. SUDs can become worse over time, destroying the life of your patient.

Substance use disorder (SUD) is serious, and waiting to refer your patient to a treatment center could increase their chance of overdose. Catching the warning signs of SUD could save a patient from developing a serious problem later down the road. Excessive substance use can bring plenty of dangers to a patient’s life if they aren’t careful. If you’re concerned that your patient might have a severe SUD or that they are on the path to developing one, refer them to treatment right away. Hawaii Island Recovery offers our patients a comprehensive treatment program in a tranquil and healing environment. We provide evidence-based treatment and medically supervised detox to all of our patients. Our intake team can help your patient assess if a residential treatment program is right for them. Call us today at (866)- 390- 5070 to learn more about our residential treatment or outpatient services or to schedule an appointment.

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