User Guide For Healthcare Professionals

Make better referrals with the Alcohol Treatment Navigator®

There are two ways for healthcare professionals to use the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator. Your practice can use it to create or expand your referral list of providers in your area who offer evidence-based treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Or you can share the Navigator directly with your patients or clients and family members who are interested and able to search on their own.

For a quick look at today's treatment options, including some modern, "lower intensity" outpatient alternatives that may appeal to many patients, see What Types of Alcohol Treatment Are Available

Build or Expand Your Referral List in Three Steps

Some healthcare professionals find that it is better to have a pre-made referral list on hand to share with patients who need help for risky drinking or for alcohol use disorder. Here's how to use the Alcohol Treatment Navigator to build or expand your list:

Step 1 - Search: The Navigator will point you to trusted directories of healthcare professionals. Some directories provide just provider names and cities, and you’ll need to do a quick online search for the provider’s phone number and address.


Because different patients will need different options, be sure your referral list includes a variety of providers that you can match to a patient’s level of AUD severity and other needs. The Navigator will help you find:

  • Board-certified addiction medicine physicians and addiction psychiatrists
  • Licensed therapists with addiction specialties
  • Specialty treatment programs, outpatient and residential

Board-certified addiction doctors. There are more than 5,000 board-certified addiction medicine physicians or addiction psychiatrists in the U.S. They can do independent assessments, provide AUD medications, and help shape a treatment plan tailored to your patient’s needs. Patients with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) should consider seeing one of these specialists. Of note, addiction psychiatrists are well equipped to treat patients with comorbid mental health problems and may provide therapy. Visit the Navigator’s Step 1 page.

Addiction therapists. Therapists who specialize in addiction can be licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, or psychiatrists. Through counseling or “talk therapy,” they help people to change behaviors that led to AUD. Patients at all levels of AUD severity – from mild to severe – can benefit. Positive changes from behavioral therapy can endure long after formal treatment ends. Visit the Navigator’s Step 1 page.

Specialty alcohol treatment programs. Treatment programs provide an array of services. Some offer mostly group outpatient counseling. Others offer long-term residential services (“rehab”). Others are hospital-based, equipped to provide medically managed detoxification and inpatient care. Generally, patients with moderate to severe AUD may be better suited to residential or inpatient programs, whereas patients with mild to moderate AUD often do well in structured outpatient programs. Visit the Navigator’s Step 1 page.

As you search for providers, you can collect their contact information on the Navigator’s Treatment Options Chart. You can fill in additional details when you call the providers, which will help you choose.

Step 2 - Ask: To help you discern the quality of a provider, the Navigator provides signs of quality, questions to ask, and answers to listen for. You’ll need to confirm credentials and ask about services, payment sources, and availability.

Share the Navigator with Patients

The Navigator will help you gather names of possibilities near you but cannot confirm credentials or report on availability. You’ll need to call about these and other details.

Board-certified addiction doctors. You will not need to ask a board-certified addiction doctor about qualifications. But you will need to call to ask, of course, if they are accepting referrals.

Addiction therapists: Contact therapists to verify their credentials, confirm their service offerings and availability, and learn about their intake process. Key questions to ask – and answers to listen for – are available here.

Specialty treatment programs: The Navigator’s search tool connects to a database of U.S. treatment programs maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A directory listing means only that a program is licensed by the state in which it operates. Before making referrals, contact programs to verify credentials and service offerings and to learn about their intake process. Key questions to ask – and answers to listen for – are available here.

Step 3 - Choose: The Navigator offers a Treatment Options Chart where you can collect details from the providers you call. It includes boxes for five signs of higher quality care. This may help you narrow your choices to the best options.

Build or Expand Your Referral List in 3 Steps

The Navigator’s Treatment Options Chart includes space for you to capture notes on availability, insurance and costs, treatment duration, and signs of higher quality care for different providers you’ve found. Seeing these qualities at a glance may help you narrow your choices to the best options for your patients.

The Navigator also offers a Referral Sheet Template with spaces for you to enter contact information for the providers you chose. The template also provides background to help your patients understand today’s treatment options and conduct their own searches on the Navigator.

We recommend that you review and update your referral list at least annually.


Share the Navigator with Patients

If a patient or a family member is interested and able to search for care, you can introduce them to the Navigator. It will help if someone in your practice can provide a brief overview along with a patient handout available on the For Healthcare Professionals page of the Navigator.

Here are some tips for sharing the Navigator with patients.

  • Become familiar with the NavigatorSee the background information it offers and its general search strategy.
  • Assess whether the patient or a family member can use the Navigator on their own. Working through the Navigator can be a lengthy process. Decide whether your patient is up for this process, or whether they would benefit more from a referral from you.
  • Identify a way to share it privately within your practice setting. The Navigator is mobile-friendly, so a tablet is a good option if a computer is not available.
  • Have a protocol in place for quick walkthroughs. Plan how you’ll present the Navigator and which pages you’ll want to highlight. If you are recommending specific type of provider, for example, take them to that specific “search for” page.
  • Have the Navigator’s web address or handouts available for your patient to take with them. See the patient handouts on the For Healthcare Professionals page of the Navigator.
  • Be sure to follow up at the patient’s next visit. Also remember that patients may benefit from additional resources in the Navigator as they make progress in their treatment plan.

About the Alcohol Treatment Navigator

Before getting started, it’s important to understand the parameters for what the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator® can provide. It offers:

  • Objective information from by the National Institutes of Health, built on years of clinical and health services research. The Navigator does not have any commercial ties or accept any advertising from treatment providers.
  • Expert guidance about how to recognize and find quality treatment that’s evidence based. The Navigator teaches the signs of quality care and a step-by-step strategy for finding it. It cannot confirm credentials or availability, but it gives questions to ask providers and answers to listen for.
  • Trusted directories of U.S. treatment providers, with detailed search tips and strategies. The Navigator is not a call center and cannot automatically create a curated list of providers for you. But it but will help you make or expand your own list of quality options that are a good fit for your adult patients.
  • Strategies for patient support from assessment to recovery.The Navigator helps you find experts who can provide comprehensive evaluations, personalized treatment plans, evidence-based treatment, and ongoing recovery support. The Navigator is not designed to find emergency care in a crisis—send patients to an ER or call 911.