An addiction specialist is a physician certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) and/or a psychiatrist certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), and who has demonstrated by education, experience, and examination the requisite knowledge and skills to provide prevention, screening, intervention, and treatment for substance use and addiction. Addiction can involve any one or more of these substances:  alcohol, tobacco, or other addicting drugs, including some prescription medications. In addition, addiction specialists can recognize and treat the psychological and physical complications of addiction.

There are two routes to becoming an addiction specialist: addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry.  Addiction medicine is a specialized field of practice, and certification is bestowed by the ABAM. Candidates seeking certification must meet ABAM’s specific eligibility criteria. ABAM certification is open to physicians from all specialties who are board certified by an American Board of Medical Specialty (ABMS) member board or who have completed an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) -accredited residency, and who meet ABAM’s additional criteria to sit for and pass the ABAM certification examination.  Addiction medicine has a unique body of knowledge and practice. Training for addiction medicine cannot be subsumed under another existing medical specialty. By the end of 2011, there were 2555 physicians certified in addiction medicine. While ABAM is not presently a member board of the ABMS, ABAM is taking the necessary steps to gain ABMS recognition.

Addiction psychiatry is a subspecialty of psychiatry. Addiction psychiatry certification is bestowed by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Only psychiatrists can receive the addiction psychiatry subspecialty certificate. Psychiatrists interested in this subspecialty must complete a 1-year addiction psychiatry residency that has been accredited by the ACGME, meet the ABPN eligibility criteria and pass the ABPN certification examination. About 2000 psychiatrists have been certified in addiction psychiatry.

Board certification demonstrates that a physician has knowledge and expertise to provide medical care in a given specialty. State licensure is a separate and mandatory process required for every physician to practice in a given state.