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Internal medicine residency training for unhealthy alcohol and other drug use: recommendations for curriculum design

Angela H Jackson123*, Daniel P Alford123, Catherine E Dubé3 and Richard Saitz12345

Author Affiliations

1 Residency Training Program in Internal Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

2 Clinical Addiction Research and Education (CARE) Unit, Section of General Internal Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

3 Department of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, and Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

4 Youth Alcohol Prevention Center, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

5 Department of Epidemiology, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:22  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-22

Published: 15 March 2010



Unhealthy substance use is the spectrum from use that risks harm, to use associated with problems, to the diagnosable conditions of substance abuse and dependence, often referred to as substance abuse disorders. Despite the prevalence and impact of unhealthy substance use, medical education in this area remains lacking, not providing physicians with the necessary expertise to effectively address one of the most common and costly health conditions. Medical educators have begun to address the need for physician training in unhealthy substance use, and formal curricula have been developed and evaluated, though broad integration into busy residency curricula remains a challenge.


We review the development of unhealthy substance use related competencies, and describe a curriculum in unhealthy substance use that integrates these competencies into internal medicine resident physician training. We outline strategies to facilitate adoption of such curricula by the residency programs. This paper provides an outline for the actual implementation of the curriculum within the structure of a training program, with examples using common teaching venues. We describe and link the content to the core competencies mandated by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the formal accrediting body for residency training programs in the United States. Specific topics are recommended, with suggestions on how to integrate such teaching into existing internal medicine residency training program curricula.


Given the burden of disease and effective interventions available that can be delivered by internal medicine physicians, teaching about unhealthy substance use must be incorporated into internal medicine residency training, and can be done within existing teaching venues.