Do you work with patients who are at risk from their alcohol, tobacco and other drug use?
We are working in challenging times. Isolation and social distancing are putting extra pressure on our services and patients. As a health professional, I have seen first-hand the additional challenges facing my patients and their families.
People cope with stress in different ways. Some people will focus on the positives and modify their life while others will feel overwhelmed. For most of us, we fluctuate between the two. Some days are good, some not so good and on other days it is an emotional roller-coaster. This can be tough as a health professional as we try to support our patients. One issue to be aware of is that people often increase their alcohol, tobacco and other drug use during times of stress. As health professionals we have an obligation to provide holistic care, which includes asking a person about their substance use. No matter the reason for their presentation, it is important to ask about their alcohol, tobacco or other drug use to help identify risks and explore options for change.
Do you know when to ask a person about their substance use?
When I first started working as a nurse, I would only ask a patient about their substance use if it was obvious – if they were intoxicated or experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When I worked in the Emergency Department, I began to realise that it was crucial to ask everyone. It was surprising how many elderly people presenting with a fractured neck of femur reported drinking alcohol at risky levels. It made me realise the importance of universal screening and brief intervention.
How to learn more about screening and brief intervention
The ASSIST Portal was developed specifically for health professionals and community workers wanting to screen and intervene in their clinical practice. It’s a one-stop-shop that has all the tools and resources for the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST) which was developed by the World Health Organization. On the Portal you can complete the ASSIST eLeaning (six hours continuous professional development), join the ASSIST Community, access expert advice, watch instructional videos, read informative manuals, download ASSIST tools and ASSIST-Lite resources, and access a comprehensive bibliography.
Yes, we are in challenging times, though there is an opportunity to make a difference. Having a conversation with your patients about the risks and harms associated with their substance use is a great start. The ASSIST Portal will support you in learning more about how to screen and intervene and how to adapt and adopt the ASSIST and linked Brief Intervention into your clinical practice.
And don’t forget – take care of yourself too.