Open Access Research article

Substance misuse teaching in undergraduate medical education

Janine Carroll1*, Christine Goodair2, Andrew Chaytor3, Caitlin Notley4, Hamid Ghodse2 and Peter Kopelman5

Author Affiliations

1 Psychology Department, University of Chester, Critchley Building, Parkgate Road, Chester, UK

2 International Centre for Drug Policy, St George’s University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London, UK

3 School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, Durham University, Queen’s Campus, Stockton-on-Tees, UK

4 Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

5 Chair National Steering Group, Principal, St George's University of London, London, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:34  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-34

Published: 17 February 2014



Over 12,000 hospital admissions in the UK result from substance misuse, therefore issues surrounding this need to be addressed early on in a doctor’s training to facilitate their interaction with this client group. Currently, undergraduate medical education includes teaching substance misuse issues, yet how this is formally integrated into the curriculum remains unclear.


Semi-structured interviews with 17 key members of staff responsible for the whole or part of the undergraduate medical curriculum were conducted to identify the methods used to teach substance misuse. Using a previously devised toolkit, 19 curriculum co-ordinators then mapped the actual teaching sessions that addressed substance misuse learning objectives.


Substance misuse teaching was delivered primarily in psychiatry modules but learning objectives were also found in other areas such as primary care placements and problem-based learning. On average, 53 teaching sessions per medical school focused on bio-psycho-social models of addiction whereas only 23 sessions per medical school focused on professionalism, fitness to practice and students’ own health in relation to substance misuse. Many sessions addressed specific learning objectives relating to the clinical features of substance dependence whereas few focused on iatrogenic addiction.


Substance misuse teaching is now inter-disciplinary and the frequent focus on clinical, psychological and social effects of substance misuse emphasises the bio-psycho-social approach underlying clinical practice. Some areas however are not frequently taught in the formal curriculum and these need to be addressed in future changes to medical education.