Addiction History — Should You Disclose Yours?

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You could go back and forth with yourself over whether to disclose your addiction history and recovery status. And that could leave you feeling anxious and doubtful of everything and everyone around you, including yourself.


You could decide to share, or not share, with others that you are in recovery and know that the decision to disclose your addiction history is solely yours and embrace the feeling of empowerment that comes from staying in control of your destiny–and your personal business.

If only it were that easy. For some, it is; for others, it’s far from it.

It is understandable why the question of whether or not to disclose your addiction history raises concerns and even fears. Despite the progress that has been made over the years regarding drug addiction awareness, struggles with the brain disease still carry a stigma that is hard for some circles to understand and accept. Stigma also surrounds multiple issues involving addiction, including those related to employment, finances, legal matters, health, and interpersonal relationships.

Many choose to keep their addiction history and recovery under wraps or out of their story because, for them, it’s easier to avoid the stares, the questions, and the judgmental comments that may follow when the status is shared. It’s easier to avoid being in the spotlight for past substance abuse problems and feeling like you still need to answer for them.

A quick internet search turns up first-person accounts from people who have talked about why they chose to tell, or not tell, people about their addiction past. Some have said the decision to not share doesn’t mean they are hiding their status or that they are ashamed of their past.

Think Before You Share

There is the idea of whether a person who chooses to keep their addiction history and recovery status private is contributing to the stigma they are concerned about. The right answer will vary from person to person. If you are on the fence about whether you should disclose your addiction and recovery status to others, here are a few things to consider before you spill the beans.

How do you see your recovery story? Your relationship to your past can play a major factor in how you think others will receive you and your story. If you are uneasy about what has unfolded in your life, others may pick up on that uneasiness and reflect it back to you. To get to a place of acceptance about what has happened, sort everything out piece by piece. Forgive yourself and others and make healing from past actions, hurts, and disappointments one of your main goals.

Take your time as you work to make peace with the events that have happened in your life. It’s important to remember that you have moved on from that dark chapter and that you don’t live there anymore. You can do some soul-searching by taking up meditation, journaling, or talking with a counselor to see where you are in the process of accepting your story. You may want to rehearse the conversation in your head or with others so you’ll know exactly what to say when it comes time to say it.

What is this person’s relationship to you, and do they need to know? You need to feel safe in your space and that you can trust who you’re talking to, whether it’s about everyday matters or your personal thoughts and private information. It is important to evaluate, and in some cases reevaluate, who is in your life and for what purpose. Not everyone needs to know what has happened in your past or what you used to do when you were battling your addiction. Just like not everyone needs to have a key to the front door of your home or your Social Security number. Your story will always be your story, but not everyone is trustworthy to honor it.

Before you choose to disclose your addiction history and recovery status, consider your relationship with this person and what you, and the other person, stand to gain from the disclosure. If you are considering telling a supervisor in a professional setting, that’s one thing. To tell someone you’ve just met the details of your journey to sobriety before you turn away a drink at a party, is something else. Each situation must be weighed on a case-by-case basis.

What’s in it for you? If you haven’t already, take some time out to think about what you want for yourself now that you are rebuilding your life after addiction. You will inevitably find yourself in a situation where you’ll have to decide whether to say more or less about yourself, so it may be helpful to anticipate these scenarios and how you might handle them. While reviewing your plan, you will want to assess your motivations or intentions, before you disclose your addiction history. Are you telling the person because you want to connect on a deeper level, and if so, why? Or are you not telling the person for another reason that’s not exactly clear as far as the outcome is concerned?

If you just want to spill information not knowing where the conversation will lead, the result could slow down your healing process. Instead of sharing with a complete stranger who may just brush off your private info with a confused nod or an awkward pause, find a trusted friend or sponsor instead who can help you assess your feelings in the right setting. A casual mention of an addiction history may not be in your best interest. Only you can decide when sharing with someone is right, but do consider whether disclosing this sensitive information is appropriate.

Addiction History Disclosure Matters More When…

You’re dating someone. If you’ve decided to have a relationship with another person, you will be vulnerable and will want to, or even need to, open up to them about who you are and what you’ve been through. If you have chosen this person to spend time with and you feel there’s something there worth pursuing, you will have to consider how the other person will react.

Only you can determine when and where is the best time to let your partner know, but keep honesty at the forefront and base the relationship on that. Truth is better than lies when establishing a serious relationship.

Employment is involved. In some cases, the decision to disclose your addiction history and/or recovery status might already be made for you. Employment situations fall into this group. If you have a legal case with charges tied with a case involving substance abuse, you may be required to disclose that information when applying for a job. The Soft Skills Builder website offers guidance on how to disclose a recovery status in this sensitive situation and ways employers can accommodate workers in recovery. The site advises the best way to approach disclosure and advises what to do if you feel your disclosure could have a negative effect.

Discussing your medical history. Your healthcare providers should be aware of your substance abuse history so it can be kept in mind when treating your medical needs. This includes any doctor, dentist, psychiatrist or another medical professional that you’re seeing for the first time. Even if you’ve been going to a particular physician for a while who is aware of your recovery, it’s still a good idea to keep them up to date on your status. Another instance in which you may want to disclose your addiction history is when you’re considering donating blood.

You need to explain the family’s history of addiction to your children. Experts advise parents to talk with their children about a history of addiction in the family as people with blood relatives with a drug or alcohol use disorder are at higher risk of suffering from their own addiction and mental health disorders. Educating children about how substance abuse has affected their family can help protect and make them aware of the possibility of addiction. When talking with your children, be honest about addiction, recovery and the possibility of relapse.

You will have to decide what age is appropriate when having this conversation (some suggest as early as elementary school and no later than middle school, when the chances are higher that children are increasingly exposed to drugs and alcohol). But it is advised that when you do, make sure children know they did not cause the addiction or substance abuse behaviors that have taken place and that recovery is work in progress to overcome the disease of addiction. You can decide how much to tell your kids, but again, be honest when you do, and let them know they can come to you if they have questions or need advice.

Opportunity to Teach Others About Recovery

Of course, there are benefits when you disclose your addiction history and recovery status with others. You may find that once you open up about your past, others will draw closer to you to hear more out of genuine interest in your story and admiration for your courage to overcome your addiction. They also may share their own challenges with addiction or those of loved ones and people they know.

Many people still are unaware of what addiction is, how it works, and how it affects others, as well as the negative stigmas attached to it. The question of when and where to talk about your past with addiction and who to discuss it with is up to your discretion. Whatever you decide to do, remember that your journey is yours, and your story is your gift to share at the right time, in the right place and with the right people.

Need Help? We’re Here

Addiction is not a disease that anyone has to face alone. Even if you have started recovery, we offer resources and support after treatment that can help you. Experts at Pathway to Hope are ready to help anyone struggling with substance abuse issues to start their recovery. We focus on our clients and ensure their needs are addressed first. Call our addiction specialists who are ready 24-7 at (844) 557-8575 for more information. They are standing by, ready to answer your call.

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