Does a Therapist have to Report Drug Abuse or Addiction?

Does a therapist have to report drug abuse or addiction? No. In fact, unless information revealed to a therapist involves danger to the patient or others or abuse involving a child, elder or dependent adult, your therapist is prohibited from disclosing any information about you gathered in a therapy session. This is called patient confidentiality, and a therapist could lose their license for faiing to comply with medical privacy laws. Under the federal HiPPA law, all medical providers must take precautions to keep your treatment information safe. They can only provide medical information about you to other providers involved in your care. For example, providers can give treatment information to your health insurance company but only what is required for the the company to evaluate and pay for your treatment.


Providers can also talk about you with other providers directly involved in your care. If medication is involved, your therapist can also give your information to any pharmacists filling your medications. Under HiPPA, there has to be a compelling and legitimate reason to disclose information about you even to other medical providers. A therapist can’t just call up another therapist, health insurance company or pharmacy and just have a chat about you.

There has to be an exact reason, and all parties must be directly invovled in your care and requiring the requested information on a legal level. All states must follow the federal HIPPA law’s minimum standards, but they are also free to add to it. For example, if the HIPPA law says that medical providers must provide patients with their requested medical records within 30 days, a state could shorten that time to two weeks. That’s why certain medical records laws vary from state to state.

Patient Confidentiality for Minors

Other than that, no therapist can reveal anything about an adult patient to anyone. If a minor child is involved, though, it gets a little murky. Parets of minor children have the right to compel their child into therapy, just as they do for any other kind of medical treatment. It’s not illegal for the therapist to discuss what the child has told them in treatment sessions, but to preserve the patient-therapist relationship and earn the child’s trust, many therapists will keep certain information from the parents if the child asks them to.

However, this information cannot involve any kind of sexual abuse information or anything regarding a crime or intention to commit a crime where the child or someone else would be in danger. Likewise, if the child tells the therapist that he or she is being physically abused by the parents or other person, especially an adult, the therapist would be mandated by law to report that information to the proper authorities.

Patient Confidentiality for Adult Substance Abusers

The circumstances in which a therapist must report patient information is quite limited. Most of the time, your therapist must keep what you say in therapy sessions confidential. They are also required to take reasonable precautions to safeguard that information from others. For example, this could involve securing their files in locked cabinets or keeping digital files under firewalls and password-protected security.

Drug abuse and addiction in and of themselves are not examples of information the therapist must report. You can discuss your own problems and struggles with substance abuse without worrying about others finding out about it. Your therapist wants to help you. They are well aware of the stigma that society places on people with substance abuse problems. They know you could lose your job or important relationships over revealed drug abuse. Their job is to help you stop using drugs and maintain your sobriety in the long term, not to tell on you. They can’t tell on you anyway for substance abuse alone. It’s illegal.

Types of Therapy

Your therapist has a number of therapy treatments available to help you. This may include:

  • CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • EMDR or Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • The Matrix Model
  • Contigency Management
  • Family Behavior Therapy

Psychiatrists may also prescribe certain types of medication to help control drug withdrawal symptoms and especially drug cravings. It’s the drug cravings that cause many substance abusers to relapse. Your therapist doesn’t want this to happen. Psychiatrists are medical doctors and can prescribe Suboxone and other types of medication-assisted treatment in addition to counseling. Some therapists may suggest alternative therapies, too, such as acupuncture, Reiki massage, meditation, yoga, volunteer work, mindfulness and art, music and dance therapy.

If you’d like more information about drug abuse therapy or another substance abuse issue, just call 732-392-7311 anytime for a confidential referral to substance abuse services in your area.

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