Protected by Privacy: Anonymity Laws in Recovery

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

You’ve admitted you have an addiction. You’ve admitted you need help. You are willing to get that help. But, there’s one little glitch: You’d prefer to remain anonymous while getting help to overcome your addiction.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not so fast…

Bucking the Stigma

When it comes to rehab, you’re certainly not the only one who’s worried about keeping identity out of the picture. Whether it is due to the general social stigma attached to addiction, potential career repercussions or other personal reasons, many people who seek help with addiction recovery also seek anonymity.

Some choose rehab centers that are literally thousands of miles away from home for this very reason. Removed from familiar surroundings, they find comfort in knowing it’s highly unlikely they’ll bump into anyone they know. But you shouldn’t have to travel clear across the country to get help – especially if that’s not a realistic option for you.

Luckily, you don’t have to put so many miles between your home and your rehab center. Laws are already in place that will protect your privacy as you undergo treatment.

Laws Meant to Safeguard Patient Anonymity

  • HIPAA

    The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) established standards that protect your medical records and other personal information.

    Physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists and all staff at rehab facilities must adhere to these standards. The HIPAA Privacy Rule gives you more control over the use and release of any health information, sets boundaries on the use of your health records, establishes rules healthcare providers must follow to ensure your privacy, and holds providers accountable to these laws.

    This Privacy Rule includes strict standards. If you feel your rights under this law have been violated, you can file a complaint with the government. Penalties for violating this law include monetary fines and imprisonment.

  • Patient Records Privacy Law

    The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records Privacy Law limits communication regarding your treatment more strictly than doctor-client privilege. It puts restrictions in place for the disclosure of patient records regarding substance abuse and related services. Rehab programs violating this law suffer severe fines. These regulations help ensure your records remain private.

  • State Laws

    In addition to the federal laws listed above, each state has statutes regulating mental health records and substance abuse records. Within the bounds of the federal law, each state can offer further confidentiality protections. These vary widely by state.

It’s an Imperfect System

Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world and no system can completely guarantee your privacy. Medical and rehab staff can make mistakes; sometimes, those mistakes lead to internal failures that fail to protect your identity.

Generally speaking, patients tend to respect one another’s privacy, but it is possible another patient may share information inappropriately. This is especially true in small towns where everybody knows everybody else’s business – and if they don’t, they tend to make it up as they go along.

Typically, though, the standards and laws that are in place successfully protect your privacy and maintain your desired anonymity while you get the help you need.

Don’t let a fear of the unknown – or a fear of being unmasked – keep you from reaching for help and thriving in recovery.
Additional Reading:   Collateral Damage: Labels, Stigma and Addiction

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