How Do I Recognize What Might Be Addiction?

Addiction Awareness

Rodney Scales, Director of Behavioral Health at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, Valerie Stanfield, Coordinator of Intake Assessment, and Chelsea Lewis-Wilkins, Counselor, give their advice on alcohol and drug addiction.

How Do I Recognize What Might Be Addiction?

If you suspect a friend is suffering with addiction, these are some of the signs: rapid weight loss, poor hygiene, irritability, depression, radical changes in mood, financial problems, sniffing, enlarged pupils, changes to their social network, and living outside of their past values and belief system.

What can I do to help?

  • Open up the lines of communication. Ask your friend or loved one if anyone has expressed concern whether they have a problem with alcohol or drugs. This could be a sign others have recognized a problem, too.
  • Encourage them to enter into a program. There are many different levels of care available, says Stanfield, ranging from out-patient classes, to one-on-one or group therapy, to residential in-patient, intensive programs. The level of care someone needs can be determined through an assessment by a professional with experience in addiction.
  • Encourage them to seek out resources, including programs available through their county’s health department. If they have private insurance, their provider can also help direct them to available resources.
  • Encourage them to find meetings to help them in their sobriety journey, and you may find meetings helpful, as well. All areas of the country have meetings and there is even a phone app that can locate the nearest meetings wherever you are, say Stanfield and Lewis-Wilkins.
  • Be a part of their support system, as long as they follow their sobriety path.

What is MedStar Southern Maryland’s Approach to Addiction and Mental Health Resources?

At MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, the Inpatient Behavioral Health Department is designed for patients with a primary psychiatric diagnosis. Our treatment for those patients with a dual or co-occurring diagnosis of alcohol or other substance dependence is to stabilize and refer the patient to an appropriate substance abuse program for treatment. Our Behavioral Health Department is staffed with contracted professionals who have the tools to help these vulnerable patients, say Scales, Stansfield and Lewis-Wilkins.

“We’re here to ask for an honest depiction of a patient’s use,” said Lewis-Wilkins. “This helps us make an informed decision for the best course of treatment. Before a patient leaves the unit, whether they’re being discharged from the Emergency Department or the Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit, we work with the patient to establish a plan which includes an outpatient appointment for further treatment. This appointment should occur during their first few days at home. In order for treatment to be successful, the patient must follow through with the treatment plan.”

“Once a patient is identified as having addiction issues, these patients are referred to our Certified Addictions Counselor who conducts additional assessments and coordinates referrals to inpatient substance abuse treatment facilities or outpatient treatment facilities, depending upon the patient’s level of need,” says Scales.

“In addition to the services currently provided on the Behavioral Health Unit, we also provide on-going substance abuse education to our patients who attend the Partial Hospitalization Program. We are also partnering with our Emergency Department to offer our substance abuse services to include all behavioral health patients who present to the Emergency Department. Our goal is to provide routine assessments, brief intervention and counseling services for those patients at risk, and referral and treatment for those patients who require this level of care.

All MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center patients needing addictions counseling and/or mental health help will be assessed at the hospital. If you are a community member in need of treatment for addiction, contact your local health department or a treatment center. This is a very serious problem and MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center is committed to helping patients needing alcohol and drug treatment.

Dr. Kevin Reed

“Regardless of the reason a person starts taking drugs, tolerance and dependency can develop quickly. A user constantly tries to replicate the first high they had by taking increasing amounts, since the effects of the drug diminishes over time. A drug overdose occurs when the body has been overloaded with prescription medications or illicit substances.

Opiates, such as heroin or prescription pain pills like Percocet, affect the breathing centers of the brain. A person may develop small contracted pupils, lose unconsciousness, breathing may become erratic and shallow. Ultimately breathing may completely stop, causing a lack of oxygen to the brain and possible death.

Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, produce a brief sense of euphoria and primarily affect the brain and the heart. Seizures or strokes can occur, as well as many heart-related conditions, including irregular heart rhythms, very high blood pressures, and a heart attack. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, leading to slurred speech, difficulty walking, lowering inhibitions leading to increasing risk taking behavior and possible memory loss or blackouts.

Drinking too much too quickly can affect your heart rate, breathing, body temperature, swallowing ability and potentially lead to coma and death. For chronic drinkers, a complex interaction in brain signaling chemicals can lead to a vicious cycle of increased drinking followed by greater tolerance that eventually leads to dependence and addiction. Alcohol withdrawal can be a life-threatening event that can involve severe tremors, high blood pressure and heart rate, agitation and seizures."

- Kevin Reed, MD, FAAEM, FACEP Chair of the Emergency Department

For more information, visit

Need Help?

Maryland's Crisis Hotline is available 24/7 to provide support, guidance, and assistance. 

Call 1-800-422-0009 
or 800-662-HELP (4357)


A variety of treatment options are available for individuals with addictions to drugs, alcohol and other substances. Other behavioral health services are also offered through the PG County Health Department. Interested individuals or family members should call the location nearest their home:

Patient Testimonial: Gaining a Healthy Heart

February is National Heart Month

Dr. Mun K. Hong takes patient James Smith from 90 percent artery blockage to healthier heart and arteries and lower blood pressure

When Oxon Hill resident James Smith, 71, began feeling shortness of breath in the summer of 2015, he thought it was a temporary feeling due to being slightly over-worked.  Still, he decided to get checked out by a physician. Knowing the outstanding reputation of doctors and hospitals in the MedStar system, he asked EMS responders to take him to a MedStar facility, not realizing his closest hospital was part of the MedStar system:  MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center.

Upon arrival here at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, Smith found out he had, in fact, suffered a heart attack.  He was seen by Chairman of Cardiology and MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute physician Mun K. Hong, MD, FACC, soon after arrival, and surgery to address the 90 percent blockage in one of his arteries was quickly scheduled for 8:00 the next morning.  A stent was put in to address the blockage, and medication was prescribed to clear Smith’s other arteries.

“Dr. Hong was excellent,” said Smith.  “I watched everything on screen as it was done, and he talked me through it.”

“He was fortunate,” said Dr. Hong.  “After experiencing a heart attack, we were able to treat him and he’s been the model patient ever since.  He is compliant with his medications, he finished cardiac rehab and he and his wife have made lifestyle changes to keep him healthy.  He’s also lucky because his wife cares about him and wants him to do all they can to be healthy.”

After being released, Smith was set up with a course of follow-up appointments in MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Cardiac Rehab.

“I didn’t want to go, but my wife insisted,” said Smith.  “And Dr. Hong agreed with her!”

After nine months of attending cardiac rehab, where he walked on a treadmill, rode a stationary bike and strengthened his chest muscles by using an arm cycle, Smith just completed treatment near the end of 2016. 

“Cardiac rehab has been extremely beneficial to Mr. Smith,” said Dr. Mun K. Hong.  “It’s giving patients both an exercise regimen and assurance they can resume activities.  Also, they’re able to provide diet recommendations and psychological resources.  Many patients find the group setting to be a positive thing, as well.  At cardiac rehab, they are very dedicated.  Anyone who completes the program, like Mr. Smith, will leave with a different mindset.”

Smith’s workouts, closely and constantly monitored by cardiac rehab staff, has brought his blood pressure down significantly, for which he, his wife Lola, his son Darren and three beloved grandsons, are all grateful.  Smith will continue to see Dr. Hong every three months in an ongoing effort to make sure he stays as healthy as his procedure and cardiac rehab appointments have made him.

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Cardiac Rehab works in three phases. In phase one, patients are referred here while still in the hospital.  In phase two, patients typically visit three times per week, which is usually covered by insurance.  They exercise while overseen by associates and often pause for blood pressure or pulse checks.  In phase three, patients visit to maintain the progress they have made.  They are less monitored, but blood pressure and blood sugar is still tested. 

If you or a family member needs information about MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Cardiac Rehab facility, please call 301-877-7370

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hong, please call 301-877-5677.

October is Physical Therapy Month

More Goes into Physical Therapy than Meets the Eye

MedStar Southern Maryland's PT Department

The biggest misconception about physical therapy (PT), says Clinical Coordinator Ukonnaya Bigelow, PT, DPT, is that not much goes into physical therapy, and that it is easy.

“Some professionals think we’re glorified ‘get out of bed’ helpers,” said Bigelow.  “The reality is, we perform true assessments and evaluations of patients, taking into account their past medical history, their current needs and their discharge plans, whether they’re going home or to rehab.  We implement treatments, stabilize them and make sure patients don’t decline further.”

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center's PT Department includes five inpatient and two outpatient physical therapists, two occupational therapists and one speech therapist. Physical therapists spend most of their time on the 4 East Orthopedic Floor, where there is a rehab gym with equipment to help patients gain back range of motion and strength. Bigelow says they also help patients in navigating rooms with obstacles and walking in busy hallways, since that mimics the types of environments the patient will face after discharge. 

On a typical day, physical therapists may help an older stroke patient whose cerebellum has been affected regain some balance.  They may help motivate a young patient who experienced a stroke in their 30’s and is dealing with the emotions the condition brings, as they try to walk.  Or, they may help an intensive care unit patient, still weak from remaining in bed for extended periods, strengthen the muscles they need to sit up and breathe effectively. 

The reward for this important work, says Bigelow, is when they see patients who have experienced debilitating conditions gain strength and walk without assistance.  For that, she says, she hasn’t minded being called a Drill Sergeant on occasion.   

To commemorate National PT Month, the PT Department will hold an Open House on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in outpatient PT (Ground Floor G-132). Therapist will be available to highlight the modalities and interventions available to treat pain.  This campaign draws attention to the role physical therapy plays not only on mobility, but pain management. The #ChoosePT campaign is focused  on safe pain management without the use of addictive opioids.