Private alcohol rehab centers: How to remain anonymous

How can you secure your anonymity during alcohol rehab? We review the laws and regulations related to your privacy here.

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Alcohol rehabilitation programs offer treatment and recovery services to someone who abuses or has become addicted to alcohol. But how can you remain anonymous during your stay in a rehab? What laws and regulations protect your privacy? More here on how to protect your anonymity while getting treatment. Then, we invite your questions and comments about privacy at the end.

Why do we need anonymity in rehab?

Among Americans, there is a widespread perception that people with substance abuse disorders are weak or morally impaired. In a time when social stigma guide public policies and attitude, it is normal to feel aversion to the label of being an “addict” or “alcoholic”. For this reason alone, many people won’t even think about treatment, especially if they believe that they could be identified.

Laws that protect your privacy –

1.  The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

This law defines the privacy rights and protections of patients regarding their health information, including control over how health information is used and disclosed by health plans and providers. Rehab programs must comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and outlines requirements for compliance and are federally governed and regulated to this effect. In fact, you can file formal complaints with the government anytime your rights to privacy are violated.

2.  The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records Privacy Law

This regulation specifies restrictions concerning the disclosure and use of patient records that include information on substance use diagnoses or services. This law complies with federal law and severely restrict communications about identifiable clients by “programs” providing substance use/abuse diagnosis, treatment, or referral for treatment. The regulations restrict communications more tightly in many instances than, for example, either the doctor-client or the attorney-client privilege.

Violating the regulation is punishable by a fine of up to $500 for a first offence and up to $5,000 for each subsequent offence.  With an emphasis on electronic health records and health information, you can be sure that your records will remain private should you request.

3.  State-by-state lass about confidentiality

Each U.S. state has a number of statutes governing medical record confidentiality. Working with federal law, States may impose additional confidentiality protections. In particular, each has statutes specifically governing some aspect of mental health records, and most have laws governing substance abuse records. The coverage and requirements of these laws vary widely, however. Check with your State General Attorney’s Office for more information.

Anonymity as a core principle

Some people who attend private rehab centers may about group therapy and privacy. While there is no absolute guarantee peers will not divulge information, group members typically operate with a shared understanding that everyone’s privacy is important and should be protected. Privacy is also written into rehab agreements and policies and may be followed up with legally.

People who attend rehab are reminded that anything heard during counseling sessions, stays there. People who go to rehab are usually there for therapeutic reasons, so they generally understand and respect each other’s need for confidentiality. Participants are encouraged to keep other people’s names, stories or events private. Why? Because anonymity facilitates the flow of information and the healing process of psychotherapy itself.

While this principle cannot be enforced outside a rehab setting, it’s how the group remains open and how the therapeutic process can help people. In fact, there are people who are willing to share their experiences honestly and whose honesty about their internal struggles provides a bridge for others. Most things that are shared in the sessions are extremely private, so people can be open about them only if they are sure that information won’t be shared outside the room.

Problems with anonymity while in recovery

It is not acceptable to break the anonymity of group members or others with whom you share the healing space. You really need to be careful when sharing any information with your friends and family about rehab, especially when you meet people from the program outside the facility. Even though it is impossible to fully protect yourself, it is good for everyone to respect others’ rights to privacy. The best secret is the one that is never told.

Remaining anonymous in alcohol rehab questions

Do you have questions about anonymity in the therapeutic community? If you have any additional questions, comments or would like to share an experience about remaining anonymous in recovery.

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Reference Sources: SAMHSA: Laws, regulations, and guidelines: Medical record privacy and confidentiality
SAMHSA: Treatment of Adolescents with Substance Use Disorders
OASES: Laws and regulations
Improving the Quality of Health Care for Mental and Substance-Use Conditions: Quality Chasm Series.
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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