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Why You Need to Discuss Drinking Habits With Your Doctor

Man drinker depressed with bottle of whiskey

America has a conflicted relationship with alcohol, at times, celebrating and condemning its use. It’s no surprise, then, that many people who potentially have alcohol use disorder (AUD) may try to either keep their drinking secret or dismiss the idea that it is a problem.

Unfortunately, this tends to be true even when individuals with a drinking problem talk to their physicians. Regardless of whether you’re seeking help for a drinking problem or some other condition, you must be able to talk openly about any drug or alcohol use.

If you suspect that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, here are a few things to keep in mind when discussing things with your doctor. Get in touch with Boston Drug Treatment Centers to learn about discreet options for drug and alcohol rehab.

Reasons to Divulge Drug and Alcohol Use to Your Physician

Even if you don’t think you have a problem, it’s important to divulge any recent drug or alcohol use to your physician or therapist, even if they haven’t asked about it. This is critical for a few reasons:1,2

1.) It Prevents Harmful Drug Interactions.

Many widely prescribed medications can be potentially lethal when combined with alcohol and other commonly used substances. Benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers, for example, are widely prescribed for a range of health conditions. These and other medications can have a synergistic effect with alcohol, potentially leading to coma or death. By divulging your alcohol and drug consumption, you can ensure that your physician prescribes you safer alternatives.

2.) Allows Your Physicians to Make Better Judgement Calls.

Regular substance misuse can lead to life-threatening health conditions. However, the early signs of trouble can be easy to miss if your doctor didn’t think to look for them. By being upfront, you can give your doctor a better view of your situation, which will help them make better decisions, possibly saving your life.

3.) Can Help Confirm if You Have an SUD.

By disclosing your use, your doctor may be able to make an SUD diagnosis or refer you to someone who can. A lot of people with alcohol or drug problems may not even be aware that they’re hooked until it’s too late.

Unfortunately, treating late-stage mental health disorders can be especially difficult and expensive. Being upfront about your drinking or drug use can help detect early SUD, potentially save you time and money that would otherwise be necessary for treating a more advanced case.

Will My Doctor Report Illegal Alcohol or Drug Use?

This is highly unlikely. Doctors are bound to confidentiality by the Hippocratic Oath and their state medical board. This includes psychiatric issues like substance misuse.3,4 

If you are a minor, doctors will also generally keep things confidential if you ask them to, barring any specific laws in your state compelling them to do otherwise.

The reason for this is that confidentiality is foundational to building trust with patients. If enough people lose their trust in doctors, the healthcare system could be compromised and quality care would be more difficult to deliver.

Additionally, reporting patients to the police for substance use problems is widely agreed to be unethical, as well. Doing so can expose the doctor to disciplinary action, lawsuits, and a loss of their practice. This all makes it highly unlikely that your doctor will turn you in, even if they personally disagree with your actions.3,4 

Who Will The Doctor Talk To About My Case?

While they are unlikely to turn you in for underage drinking or drug use, your physician may need to communicate details of your case to other clinicians that they work with. This could include other doctors, therapists, nurses, or lab technicians. They may also need to contact your insurance provider, if any.3,4 

Will a Drinking Problem Raise My Insurance Premiums?

Knowing that your doctors are likely to talk to your insurers, it’s natural to be curious about this. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say for sure whether or not your drinking or drug use will affect how much you will pay on your premiums or your ability to get a good deal on insurance. You may want to discuss this further with a legal expert or financial advisor.

Should I Divulge One-time Binge-drinking Incidents?

Binge-drinking is an unsafe practice that can lead to serious complications, even after just one incident. This is especially the case if other drugs were used during the binge. Generally speaking, you should disclose any such incidents if they happened within the last 12 months. This will help your doctor get a truer picture of your current condition.

Find Help for AUD in Boston, MA

If you’re in New England and feel that you need help with drug or alcohol problems, Boston Drug Treatment Centers offers access to programs in the Greater Boston area. Call (857) 577-8193 to discuss your options.

Resources:

  1. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. (2020, August 19). Should you tell your doctor about your drug use?.
  2. Hu, L. L., Sparenborg, S., & Tai, B. (2011). Privacy protection for patients with substance use problems. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 2, 227–233. https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S27237
  3. Baker, R. (1999). Code of Ethics: Some History. Perspectives on the Professions, 19(1). Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions Illinois Institute of Technology
  4. Askitopoulou, H., & Vgontzas, A. N. (2018). The relevance of the Hippocratic Oath to the ethical and moral values of contemporary medicine. Part I: The Hippocratic Oath from antiquity to modern times. European Spine Journal, 27(7), 1481-1490.