Sharing your addiction story with anyone can be scary and uncomfortable. It can be especially difficult when the person you need to tell is someone you trust and respect, like your healthcare providers. You may worry about being seen or treated differently once you disclose your history of addiction.
Fears About Sharing with Medical Professionals
While some people are afraid to talk to their medical team because they worry their doctor will look down on them or lecture them for admitting their struggle, this should not happen. Any doctor you share with should respond by:
- Asking straightforward questions
- Listening without judgment
- Expressing empathy
If this is not the response you receive from your doctor, it may be appropriate to find a provider who is more knowledgeable about addiction and recovery. A treatment facility like Safe Harbor Recovery Center may be able to help you identify doctors in your area who are skilled and knowledgeable at working with people who have a history of addiction.
If you don’t get a helpful reaction from your doctor, it might also be an opportunity to help your doctor overcome their biases and become better at treating people who have substance abuse issues. The Pennington Institute, a harm reduction organization suggests talking to your doctor about how they can help people with a history of substance use:
- If your doctor seems overly preoccupied with your substance use or history of substance use, try acknowledging their concerns but asking to come back to that after you talk about the thing that brought you into their office.
- Try asking them to explain their concerns in terms of medical consequences of your substance use. This can help them focus on a medical perspective instead of having a reaction that could be based on other factors.
It can be tempting for a person in recovery to decide they don’t want to talk to their doctor about their past issues with addiction, particularly if they didn’t abuse prescription medications or drugs that are similar to drugs that could be prescribed for them. It is important to understand, however, that up to 20 percent of people with a history of addiction develop cross-addictions, where they replace an old addiction with a new one. A person who used to abuse alcohol may be at heightened risk for abusing prescription medications, so it is important to ensure your doctor is aware of your history when prescribing anything to you.
Benefits of Openness
Your doctors may be highly knowledgeable and intelligent, but they aren’t able to see into the parts of your life that you don’t disclose. These are numerous ways you can benefit from having a medical team who understands your addiction history:
- Your primary care doctor can refer you to treatment – your doctor may be able to help you get started on your recovery journey by helping you start the process of getting sober.
- Ensuring there are no medication interactions – if you are someone who is utilizing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help you stay sober, your primary care doctor needs to know what has been prescribed in order to account for possible conflicts with your new prescription.
- Understanding that your immune system may not behave as expected – prolonged substance abuse can cause a person’s immune system to be weakened. Your doctor may be able to offer some suggestions for dealing with this, and they also need to be aware of this risk when choosing appropriate medications for you.
- Spotting and addressing nutritional deficiencies – substance abuse can cause nutritional deficiencies, which can cause or exacerbate health issues. If your doctor knows that you are someone who has struggled with addiction, they can be more mindful of potential issues and assist you in finding ways to address these deficiencies before they become a serious problem.
- Helping to get you back on track faster after a relapse – if your doctor is unaware that you are someone who has faced addiction, they might miss signs of a relapse that is imminent or even currently happening.
- Providing information about medications that don’t increase risk of relapse – people in recovery, out of their desire to preserve their sobriety, might be tempted to avoid even those medications that don’t threaten their sobriety, like antidepressants. If your doctor has access to your complete history, they can ensure that you are making informed decisions about your health.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, we are happy to work with other professionals on your team, including doctors, dentists and psychiatrists, to ensure that you receive the best possible care in every area of your treatment.