A psychiatrist is a medical physician who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses, including substance abuse and addiction. Psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological disturbance. Their medical education has given them a full working knowledge of the many causes for a patient’s feelings and symptoms. Armed with this understanding, psychiatrists can make a complete, accurate diagnosis and then recommend or provide treatment.

People seek psychiatric help for many reasons. Life's usual round of trials may become overwhelming. Relationships may become troubled, or the pangs of anxiety - easily dismissed before as simple "nerves" - may grow sharper and last longer. The fresh-faced young newcomer down the hall at work may seem to threaten a secure job, and headaches may start to come literally one after the other. The emotions that arise in reaction to everyday stresses and strains may blow badly out of proportion, or may be strangely absent. Eating may become a refuge, and sleep may begin to seem either irresistible or elusive. Alcohol or drug use may get out of control.

The problems can be sudden, such as a panic attack or as frightening hallucinations, thoughts or suicide, or "voices" that whisper intrusive and incomprehensible things. Or they may be more long-term-such as a pall of gloom that never seems to lift, causing everyday life to feel distorted, out of control, not worth living.

Because they are physicians, psychiatrists can order or perform a full range of medical laboratory and psychological tests that provide a complete picture of a patient's physical and mental state. Their education and years of clinical experience equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and other medical illnesses, evaluate all the medical and psychological data, make a diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan.

A person wanting to become a psychiatrist must complete high school and college before entering medical school. While there is no requirement for a particular major, college students headed for medical school take required courses in the biological and physical sciences (general and organic chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics) as well as liberal arts courses. The prospective psychiatrist may also study social and psychological sciences and psychobiology. Most psychiatrists and other physicians feel that a liberal arts college education is the best preparation for medical school.

Medical students follow a standard curriculum, with only a few opportunities for choice. In addition to chemistry, biochemistry and physiology, students take courses in psychiatry, behavioral science, and neuroscience in the first two years of medical school. In the last two years, students are assigned to medical specialty "clerkships," where they study and work with physicians in at least five different medical specialties. Medical students taking a psychiatry clerkship take care of patients with mental illnesses in the hospital and in outpatient settings. They also have an opportunity to work with medical and surgical patients who may have psychiatric problems or who have difficulty coping with their illnesses. Because modern psychiatry places special emphasis on the relationship between mind and body, students pay special attention to issues of stress and physical illness, prevention and behavior change, in addition to learning to care for severely mentally ill patients. Newly graduated physicians take written examinations for a state license to practice medicine. After graduation, doctors spend the first year of residency training in a hospital taking care of patients with a wide range of medical illnesses. The psychiatrist-in-training then spends at least three additional years in a psychiatric residency learning the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, gaining valuable skills in various forms of psychotherapy and in the use of psychiatric medicines and other treatments.

After completing their residency training, most psychiatrists take a voluntary examination given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, to become a "board certified" psychiatrist.

Yes. Many psychiatrists continue training beyond the initial four years. They may study child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, forensic (legal) psychiatry, administrative psychiatry, alcohol and substance abuser psychiatry, emergency psychiatry, psychiatry in general medical settings (called "consultation/liaison psychiatry"), mental retardation psychiatry, community psychiatry and public health, military psychiatry and psychiatric research. Some choose additional training in psychoanalysis at special psychoanalytic institutes.

Because of a continued shortage in the field, psychiatrists have many career opportunities. They work in a variety of settings including general and psychiatric hospitals, university medical centers, community agencies, courts and prisons, nursing homes, industry, government, military settings, schools and universities, rehabilitation programs, emergency rooms, hospices, and many other places.

Mental illness is an illness that affects or is manifested in a person's brain. It may impact on the way a person thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. Each year in the United States, one in five adults is diagnosed with a mental illness.

What are the common misunderstandings about addiction?

  • Addicts are bad, misbehaved, lazy or useless people

  • Addicts should not be treated unless they are violent or fall in gutters and create problems in social setting

  • People who do not abuse/drink continuously, that is throughout the day, don't have a problem

  • People who are into substance abuse can be left alone if they earn well and work well

  • Alcohol, ganja are used in festivals, while cough syrups etc. are medicines, therefore they can be consumed without any harm

  • Alcohol improves appetite and sexual libido

  • Smoking filtered cigarette and drinking foreign liquor is fashionable and an occupational etiquette

AA is Alcoholics Anonymous, a self-help group started by and for the alcoholics. NA is Narcotics Anonymous, a self-help group for users of narcotic drugs like brown sugar, charas, ganja, cocaine etc. These groups have free membership, they provide anonymity and a sense of belonging to their members.

Role of family members/caregivers in helping the addict is very crucial.

  • They need to accept that the addict is ill, and should accompany him for treatment like any other patient

  • They need to play a remedial role as prescribed by the counsellor

  • Changing their thinking, feeling and behaviour patterns is necessary

  • It is important to play a vigilant role in case the patient slips back to addiction

  • The family should try and lead a normal life within the circumstances

Sobriety is not merely abstinence from the substance but a qualitative change in attitude regarding self, others and the world. It also includes a sense of self-development and effort towards active reinstatement of self in the social mainstream.

Yes, and he can even progress and help other addicts during their treatment and recovery. He can restart his education, career plans, family reunification etc. He should however always completely abstain from all addictive, dependency-producing substances as there is a danger of relapse of some abuse or shift to a new abuse.

1. Why do parents and families bring their child or teenager to a child and adolescent psychiatrist?

Parents and families often worry when their child or teenager seems to have a problem which causes them to be sad, disruptive, rebellious, inattentive, unable to cope with things, or to get involved with drugs and alcohol. They may be concerned about their child or adolescent’s development, eating and /or sleeping patterns, and how they are getting along with family, friends, and at school. Many families first discuss their concerns with a family physician, school counselor, or clergy. Following this, the family may be referred to or seek out a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. The Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist is uniquely qualified to understand the full range of factors associated with emotional difficulties and mental disorders that can affect children and adolescents.

2. Are parents and families responsible for their child's problem?

Parents and families often have this worry. Some families even delay seeking help for their child for fear that they will be blamed. Feeling responsible for the child's problems or distress is a normal sign of caring and attachment. There can be multiple causes for many of the problems that children and adolescents experience. Sometimes the cause of a problem is not known, but all disorders are treatable. A Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist will help parents and families understand that they should not blame themselves for their child or adolescent's problem and resolve the feelings of "Why me? Why my child?."

3. What about stigma?

Parents and families are sometimes concerned about their child being labeled with a psychiatric disorder. Just as children and adolescents may become physically ill, they may experience emotional and behavioral problems. Many problems can be completely overcome and symptoms can almost always be improved with treatment. Once a child starts to improve, many parents feel good telling their friends and relatives: "Yes, my child did have a significant problem, but we got the help we needed."

4. What kind of treatment is offered?

The individual plan of psychiatric treatment will take into account your child or adolescent's problems as well as the strengths that are identified in your child's personality, your family, the school and other community resources. Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists use a variety of treatment techniques; e.g., psychotherapies, behavior therapies, medications, interventions with the school and family, etc.

5. How long does psychiatric treatment usually take?

Some children and adolescents will respond to short-term treatment (for example, up to 12 sessions). When the disorder(s) has persisted for a long time or is complicated, a longer term of treatment may be needed. A few disorders which are chronic, may require continuing care. You should discuss the duration and goals of treatment with your Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist after the initial diagnostic evaluation.

6. Who is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist?

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in evaluating, diagnosing, and treating children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders which cause problems with feeling, thinking, and behavior.

They are specially trained and qualified to treat infants, children, adolescents, and adults as individuals, couples, families, and groups. They practice in a variety of settings, including independently in offices, on the staffs of hospitals, clinics, HMO's, etc.