Talking to Your Doctor About Addiction: Being an Advocate for Yourself

As a counselor who primarily works with clients with substance use disorders, I always recommend my clients inform their doctors about their addiction history. Unfortunately, many doctors are still unaware of or misinformed about the disease of addiction and what it means to be in recovery. As a result, they may unknowingly prescribe a patient medication that they have a high chance of abusing. Because of this, those in recovery must advocate for themselves and educate their doctor about what it means to be in recovery and what types of medications they are unable to take.

No Excuse Not to Discuss Addiction

When I advise my clients to speak with their doctors about their substance use disorder, they sometimes reply that they are uncomfortable doing so, or do not feel it is necessary. Many have similar concerns that prevent them from discussing their substance use history with their doctors. I’ve gathered these top excuses to show that discussing an addiction with your doctor is part of a healthy recovery and absolutely necessary.

They are Worried About Being Judged

Doctors are medical professionals and are trained on the medical model of addiction. As a result, doctors understand that addiction is a disease, not a choice a person should be judged for. If someone who has struggled with substance abuse feels that their doctor is not understanding their addiction history or what it means to be in recovery they should switch physicians. There are many doctors who have backgrounds in addiction studies that would make great options for primary care. Hospitals and health practices are on the front lines of combatting many addictions but particularly opioid use. Many are now even auditing their own system to close the gaps in their part of the addiction cycle. Being honest with a physician’s practice is a great way to help them build up their processes and understand alternative ways to treat pain and symptoms.

The Doctor Treats the Whole Family

I’ve had several patients in the past who were worried that talking to their doctor about their addiction could lead to others in their family knowing. Because of HIPAA, doctors are unable to discuss substance abuse history with anyone unless the patient gives them permission to do so. Discussing substance use disorder or recovery with anyone who has not been authorized to receive that information is illegal. Personal information about addiction is not only protected by hospital regulations but the law as well.

Doing it on Their Own

A few patients don’t deem telling their doctor necessary because they think that they will be able to hold themselves accountable. The problem with this however is that doctors who are unaware of someone’s addiction status may prescribe a narcotic to them in treatment for an ailment. A simple prescription can be a relapse in disguise. Although a person in recovery may think that they will always have the strength to say no, every day is different. A recovering addict could have had a particularly tough day, or encountered some other triggers, making them an easy target for a relapse. If your doctor is aware of your addiction history, he or she can help hold you accountable in your recovery.

If you’d like additional suggestions for how to talk with your doctor about being in recovery from a substance use disorder, consider working with a counselor from Rehab After Work. You can schedule an intake appointment today by calling (610) 644-6464.