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Drug Dependence & Abuse (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for Drug Dependence & Abuse

Someone who wishes to receive treatment for substance abuse or dependence should see a doctor. Family members should accompany the person with a drug abuse problem to the doctor's appointment to discuss the issue.

A person with an acute drug overdose should be brought to a hospital's emergency department immediately. The emergency department is a frequent place for people who suffer from drug dependence to seek medical care. People who are behavior problems may come to the attention of the emergency medical services system or police. These public service professionals can assist in bringing the person to the hospital.

  • Anyone with an alteration of consciousness needs immediate medical evaluation. Such a person may not recognize how ill he or she is or may be a danger to himself or herself or to others. A hallucinating person, for example, may think he can fly and jump off a building, killing himself as well as a person below. Violent behavior is also possible.
  • Anyone with abnormal vital signs, severe pain, or any severe or sudden onset of problems needs immediate help.

Drug Dependence & Abuse Diagnosis

In order to determine if the diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence is appropriate, the doctor will determine what substances have been abused and will ask what symptoms prompted the person to seek care. The health care professional will assess whether the individual being evaluated meets diagnostic criteria for a specific substance abuse disorder. The doctor will then perform a physical examination to evaluate for possible organ damage.

  • Laboratory studies are directed to evaluate for specific organ damage.
  • Drug screening tests are readily available for some agents. Other substances can be detected with specialized tests at only a few laboratories in the country. Some agents cannot be detected by laboratory evaluation. Depending upon the circumstances, there may be little benefit from drug testing.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/17/2017

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