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Empowering Yourself In Finding Addiction Services

Staying In Charge Of Your Own Recovery


Updated July 17, 2011

The choice to seek help for addiction is momentous. Then, you need to stay in control of your own treatment process by understanding and asserting your rights and building a team of supporters who can help you on your path to healthy recovery. Some of the most important people will be found through addiction services.

Recovery from an addiction is all about taking responsibility. Although the professionals you will access through addiction services, such as physicians, psychologists, nurses and social workers, among others, may be crucial in assisting you, the real work will be done by you. You will need to look at your situation more honestly than ever before. Although you may feel helpless and intimidated, you actually have full control over the process -- unless you do something illegal.

People with addictions are among the most stigmatized, judged and disempowered patient group. There are understanding professionals out there, but often, you discover their attitudes only after sharing your story. It may take time to find the right supporters, but when you do, you will find it is worth it. They can advocate for you in many areas of your life in addition to medical care, particularly if you can establish a good therapeutic relationship.

Know Your Rights

All patients have basic rights. Understanding these rights before seeking addiction services and other help can alleviate many of the fears you may have about seeking help for an addiction. While it is likely to be embarrassing talking with your physician about an alcohol, drug, gambling, sex or food addiction, it is your physician's job to direct you to the best course of treatment, not to judge or mock you. Being treated with respect is one of your most fundamental rights. At present, the medical establishment tends to view addiction as a disease, so your access to addiction treatment services should be no different from someone with cancer or diabetes.

The Choice Is Yours

While you can be strongly encouraged to enter the assessment or treatment process, you should first give informed consent. This is a very important right, meaning that you agree to have the assessment or treatment being offered. You may think this is just a formality, and feel pressured into consenting in order to access addiction services, but you should take the time to understand what is involved in the services offered and whether you agree to everything. Even after you have signed the consent form, you have not signed away your right to refuse or withdraw from any aspect of the treatment process or other addiction service.

However, you should follow medical advice as much as possible, particularly when adjusting the amount of alcohol, recreational drugs or medications you are putting in to your body. Be completely honest with your physician, so don't fall into the trap of telling them what you think they want to hear and then doing something different.

If you are taking an addictive substance, such as alcohol, heroin or pain medication, the amount your body can tolerate will vary depending on your recent intake. Therefore, it is extremely important if you are on a drug taper, have recently detoxed or if you are gradually reducing your alcohol or other drug intake, to follow your doctor's advice precisely. You risk becoming very ill if you withdraw too suddenly, and if you suddenly take a larger amount after reducing, you run the risk of overdose (even though that amount may have seemed OK before you started cutting down).

Sharing Personal Information

Addiction services, whether provided to you as an individual or as part of a group, will involve you sharing some very personal information. It is necessary to share personal information in order for the treatment to be helpful, but you should never give in to pressure from professionals or from other group members to share information you are not ready, or may never wish, to share. As long as you are actively involved in working on your addiction, it is your choice to decide how much to tell. Your access to addiction services is not dependent on revealing more than you want to.

Good Communication

Good communication is essential. You should be as honest as possible, bearing three points in mind:

  • Don't give any unnecessary information that may reflect badly on you, that you may later wish you hadn't told. As an HIV patient once said, "Once you have told someone your status, you can't take it back -- you lose control of the information."
  • If you are asked a question, try to answer that question, rather than talk about the topic generally or talk about unrelated things. If you don't feel comfortable answering the question, simply say, "I don't feel comfortable answering that question right now."
  • Try to get a sense of when you should talk about "facts" and when you should talk about "feelings."

    Sometimes a physician or psychiatrist will ask you about feelings, when really what they want is factual information: how often you feel depressed or how sad do you feel on a scale of one to ten, rather than the content of the feelings themselves. In contrast, a psychologist, counselor or group facilitator asking about feelings will also want to know the content of what you are feeling: angry toward your boss, sad about the loss of your mother.

    What If They Are Unreasonable?

    Like any profession, physicians will vary in the manner in which they treat others. If you have an addiction, particularly one that has taken its toll and caused a lot of losses in your life, it can be particularly annoying to come to addiction services for help and find you are facing an arrogant doctor.

    If you are limited in your access to another physician, it may be helpful to see this person simply as a means to an end. Try not to take anything they say too personally, and simply ask for what you want that they can provide, such as tests or a referral for treatment or other addiction services.

    If you feel your doctor has crossed the line and is not respecting your rights as a patient, you may consider making a complaint or looking for another doctor.

    Bear in mind, however, that it can be particularly difficult for people with addictions to access adequate health care, including addiction services.

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