One of the clearest takeaways from the science regarding addiction treatment: Everyone in recovery needs love and support from other people to help them through the blood, sweat, and tears of overcoming drug or alcohol abuse.
Knowing specifically who to share your addiction and recovery with can be complicated and somewhat nerve-wracking, however. Telling someone you have an addiction entails higher risks than telling them you have asthma or a sprained ankle, after all. “Too Much Information” (TMI) shared with the wrong person can carry consequences you’ll regret. Addiction-related revelations to the wrong people can kill a job or relationship, even your recovery.
Who, then, should you share your addiction and recovery with?
Your primary care provider and other specialists need to know your substance abuse history. This is especially true if you’re receiving any kind of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) — for example, buprenorphine for an opiate use disorder or naltrexone for an alcohol use disorder. An MAT can interact with other drugs, so your doctor needs to know this information so they can treat any other acute or chronic conditions safely and effectively.
Even if you are not receiving a MAT, though, letting your doctor(s) know your substance abuse history helps them make informed treatment decisions that are in your best interest and in the interest of your recovery.
Let’s say you end up in the emergency room after a car accident. An ER doctor who knows your history can help manage your pain more safely than an ER doctor who is unaware you’ve had struggles with substance abuse.
During or after treatment, many in recovery benefit from ongoing sessions with an addiction-certified therapist. A therapist is bound to an oath of confidentiality (the one exception being if you say you are planning to hurt yourself or someone else). Your therapist’s job is to listen and support clients with behavioral health strategies that contribute to their recovery and overall mental and psychological health. Sharing with them what you’re going through can only help them serve you better. It’s also a helpful way to address emotional needs in a safe and supportive environment. This makes you less likely to spill your guts to others who may not be good recipients for that information.
Your 12-Step/Other Peer Support Group
Regular participation in a 12-step group correlates with better long-term recovery outcomes. Peer group support from others on the same journey is a powerful healing tool that offers empathy, solidarity, and mutual accountability.
Research suggests that one reason such groups can be helpful in recovery is that they give participants an outlet for helping others with substance abuse problems. For example, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous encourage their members to “carry the message” of recovery to others in need. This involves “sharing experience, strength and hope.” Anonymity and confidentiality are also closely observed.
Close Friends and/or Immediate Family
Close supportive relationships with at least a small core group of family and/or friends are another predictor of better recovery outcomes. Friends and family you know well — who have already clearly demonstrated they want you to be happy and healthy — might be the right people to share your experience with.
Opening up to them may be in your best interests. For instance, if you are a recovering alcoholic planning to attend a family event where alcohol will be readily on hand, it can be helpful to tell at least one trusted close family member in advance so they can be part of your backup plan (should the situation prove too risky for your sobriety).
Close friends and/or family members with whom you’re thinking about confiding also need to be trustworthy with the information you share with them. If someone has trouble keeping confidentiality or seems to lack discretion regarding what they share with you about other friends or family members, that can be a red flag. You need to be able to trust the person.
Dealing with an addiction can sometimes feel lonely. Finding a few people to confide in will very likely help you feel a sense of safety,support, and help you cope with all that recovery entails.
Bio: Linda Williams is the Executive Director of Beach House Center for Recovery. She is also a seasoned clinician with specialization in addiction and trauma.