Opening up to someone about drug use can be challenging. But for many, sharing with their primary care provider is the first step toward seeking help for a substance abuse problem.
One common question people have is whether it’s safe to be honest with a doctor and whether speaking candidly could lead to legal troubles or other issues.
When it comes to drug abuse, being honest with a doctor — especially if you’re experiencing health issues — is essential. Here’s what you should know:
Why Is It Important To Disclose Drug Use?
Healthcare providers, including family physicians and primary care practitioners, are tasked with helping their patients make informed healthcare decisions based on the patient’s needs.
If you aren’t honest with your doctor about factors that could be affecting your health, such as drug use, this can prevent them from giving you the most accurate and helpful medical advice.
Drug use can factor into:
- medical/behavioral health diagnoses
- medical screenings
- understanding your medical history
- prescription medication options
- medical and behavioral health treatment options
When To Discuss Drug Use With A Doctor
All drug use should be reported to a doctor, even if it’s just a prescription from another doctor, or if you are regularly taking an over-the-counter substance.
This is especially true for those who are misusing drugs. A doctor can offer treatment referrals, help with detox/tapering off medication, and begin the process of determining a treatment plan.
Signs it might be appropriate to talk to a doctor about substance use include:
- continuing to use drugs or drink alcohol despite the problems it is causing you
- feeling unable to quit/cut down on your drug use
- having to take more of a drug, or use it more frequently, to feel the desired effect
- feeling sick if you go too long without using more of a drug/drinking (i.e. withdrawal)
- withdrawing from friends, family members, and other loved ones
- feeling the need to lie about or hide your drug use
What To Expect
It’s normal to have concerns about speaking with a doctor about drug use, especially illicit drug use, such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
Here is some guidance on what you can expect when talking with your doctor:
Can You Get In Legal Trouble For Telling A Doctor About Drug Use?
Your doctor is required to keep your medical information private by law. Although there are exemptions under certain circumstances, this does not apply to the discussion of drug use.
For example, if you tell your doctor you are using an illicit drug, they cannot report this to law enforcement authorities. This is because of doctor-patient confidentiality.
The only exception to this could be if you disclose to your doctor that you plan to seriously harm yourself (e.g. self-harm, suicide) or another person.
What Happens When You Tell A Doctor About Drug Use?
A clinician who learns their patient is using drugs may have questions for you. So it’s important to be prepared, but also not to panic.
Questions your doctor might ask:
- How often are you using drugs?
- How much do you use? (i.e. dose, amount)
- Are you taking any other substances?
- Have you experienced any physical health issues from your drug use? Any effects on mental health?
- Do you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse? Does a close family member?
- Why are you using this substance?
Follow-up questions from a doctor after disclosing drug use are normal, and to be expected. Their goal is to help you make informed healthcare decisions to promote your overall health.
Some recreational drugs, for instance, can interact with other prescription medications, including antidepressants, ADHD medications, anxiety medications, and medicine for high blood pressure.
Benefits Of Talking To A Doctor About Substance Use
Being honest with a doctor about your substance use can be beneficial for a number of reasons.
Benefits can include:
- ensuring accurate diagnoses
- preventing potentially dangerous drug interactions
- building trust with your doctor
- evaluating the risks of your drug use, as well as the risk for dependence and addiction
- they can offer treatment referrals or treatment suggestions for the effects or consequences of drug use (e.g. bloodborne disease, infection, physical dependence)
Drug use can cause symptoms that can affect a doctor’s diagnosis of a medical or behavioral health condition, as well as the treatment options they suggest.
For this reason alone, it can be important to be honest. Otherwise, you could receive a diagnosis that is inaccurate or receive treatment that is not actually suitable to meet your healthcare needs.
Risks Of Talking To A Doctor About Substance Use
It’s not always easy to admit you are using a substance, or have a drug problem.
Common fears can include:
- being judged for your drug use
- your doctor focusing solely on your drug use and neglecting other reported symptoms
- changes in prescribing practices
- your doctor shaming you for your drug use
- being reported to child protective services
- having information about your drug use in medical records
The best healthcare providers understand that this can be a sensitive issue and that it’s important to treat all patients, regardless of their substance use, with compassion and understanding.
A negative experience with a doctor after disclosing drug use is possible. But this shouldn’t discourage you from sharing this important information with your doctor.
Tips For Talking To A Doctor About Drug Use
If you’re planning to visit a doctor and are worried about disclosing your drug use, here are some tips for how you can prepare for that discussion with your doctor:
- Be honest not just about your drug use, but your concerns about how it’s affecting you, as well as your concerns about talking to them about this issue
- Ask questions if they are saying or suggesting something that you do not understand
- Allow yourself to be open to addiction treatment options that they might suggest, such as changes in prescription medication, beginning a detox plan, or finding a drug counselor
- Be prepared to answer questions they might have about your substance use — and don’t hold back
Drug Abuse And Drug Addiction Treatment
Disclosing a drug abuse problem to a doctor could result in recommendations for treatment. This could include inpatient treatment, residential rehab, or outpatient addiction treatment options.
Getting advice from a medical professional can be helpful in identifying your best treatment options and finding recommendations for evidence-based treatment providers.
If you’re concerned about payment, you can explore:
- insurance for addiction treatment
- a grant or scholarship for drug or alcohol abuse recovery
- finding a free or state-funded rehab center
- starting a GoFundMe or other crowd-funding pool for treatment
- a free rehab center near you
- seeking a loan from a bank, or a personal loan from a trusted friend or family member
At FreeRehabCenters.net, we also have specialists on standby to help individuals and families find available treatment centers and other medical providers.
Find Substance Abuse Treatment Today
At FreeRehabCenters.net, our goal is to connect individuals and families affected by substance use with affordable, effective treatment options for substance use disorders.
We can help you find a treatment provider for addiction to:
- prescription drugs
- other recreational drugs
For more information about finding addiction treatment options, call our helpline to speak with an admissions specialist today.
Published on December 7, 2022
Free Rehab Centers aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Harm Reduction Coalition — Talking about Drug Use with Health Care Providers
- Ohio State Medical Center — Should you tell your doctor about your drug use
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — HIPAA Home
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — Talk with Your Doctor About Drug Misuse