Going to the doctor can be an intimidating experience. You’re completely vulnerable, and many of the questions you must answer in writing are extremely personal. There’s even a named disorder for fear of doctors — roughly three percent of the general population suffers from Iatrophobia or fear of going to the doctor.

Fear of disclosing behaviors including infidelity, prior abortions, and illegal drug use are a few of the top reasons people dread seeing the doctor. However, being honest with your doctor is critical in order to receive proper care, especially when it comes to drug use.

Telling a doctor about drug use – why is it so important?

You may worry that telling a doctor about illegal drug use will get you in trouble with the law, or your family. While admitting drug use to your doctor is not an easy thing to do, it’s crucial, to be honest with your care provider.

Vices such as alcohol or drug abuse can cause or complicate symptoms. Even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer, and greater intake puts organs, such as your liver, stomach, and brain, at risk. Moderate cocaine use can cause heart problems or a heart attack. The more honest you are with your doctor, the more they can help educate you on staying healthy.

Reasons drug users may be afraid to disclose drug use to their doctor

  • Privacy

Some patients may be concerned about getting in trouble with the law. First of all, medical caregivers are bound by federal laws, including HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This act protects patient confidentiality — everything, including criminal activity, is kept private.

Secondly, admitting illegal drug use in itself isn’t a criminal offense. Of course, there are ways to get in trouble for using illegal drugs, including:

  • Driving high or drunk
  • Getting caught purchasing
  • Getting caught in possession of an illegal substance
  • Physically harming someone while high or in withdrawal
  • Sharing drugs with another patient in treatment
  • Discrimination or judgment

The stigma that drug use or addiction is a moral failing is slowly fading away. Furthermore, medical providers are required by law to treat mental illness and substance abuse disorders the same as any other medical condition, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Most doctors will not pass moral judgment, they just want to treat your illness. In order to do that, they need to have accurate information. Withholding facts such as drug use will make it harder for them to assess what’s really going on.

telling a doctor about drug use

Tips for telling a doctor about drug use

First and foremost, when you need to see a doctor, if possible, start by seeking recommendations from friends, family, or online reviews. These will tell you a lot about a doctor’s bedside manner, which will help put you at ease.

Secondly, answer all intake questions honestly. Don’t say you have three drinks per week when you actually have 10 or 20.

Also, be sure to show respect to the doctor and their staff. Arrive a few minutes early to your appointment, take care that your appearance is clean and tidy, listen to instructions, and speak with respect. This is key to success in any doctor’s office, but especially if you are facing a potential stigma of drug use.

Although illegal drug use isn’t as taboo as it was in the past, the only way to truly defeat stigma is to be the exception to the stereotype. Be sure to keep an open mind to their treatment plan. For example, if you have a history of opioid addiction, your physician will take special care to avoid relapse and may suggest things that seem unusual or ineffective. Remember, although you know your own experience best, they are the experts and often have different suggestions than what you might expect.

Depending on the nature of your appointment, you may not even need to address substance use or abuse. That said, it’s extremely important to be honest if you do. Most importantly, if you or someone you love is afraid to see a doctor because you suspect a substance abuse issue, please contact a United Recovery Project specialist today, to learn about treatment options.