Talking about Drug Use with Health Care Providers
Talking about drug use is personal. Even though it may not always feel like you have a choice, it should be up to you when and how much you talk about your drug use, even with doctors. Here are some things to think about when deciding how to talk about drug use with your medical providers.
Reasons why it may be hard to talk about drug use (and why some people decide not to): You are concerned that doctors may treat you differently because of your drug use—instead of getting to know you as an individual. If you are a parent you may be afraid to tell the doctor because he or she might report you to child protective services for abuse or neglect. You are afraid the doctors will focus only on your drug use instead of taking care of what you want help with. You are afraid that some doctors prescribe medication differently to people who use drugs.
Some reasons why it is good to talk about your drug use: The doctor may be able to make a better diagnosis if he/ she knows the whole story. Even symptoms that may seem unrelated to drug use can sometimes be a result of drugs you are taking or the “cut” in those drugs. There may be interactions between drugs you are taking (street, prescription or over-the-counter) and medications that the doctor wants to prescribe. Being upfront about your drug use can help build trust with your doctor. Trust is an important part of your relationship and can lead to better care.
It is important to be honest with yourself about your drug use. Try and find a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and respects your boundaries. Doctors are not allowed to report your drug use to the police.
When talking about your drug use, it’s OK to build trust first: If you need to—wait until the second or third visit to talk about your use. Be polite and keep an open mind—don’t expect the worst.
If the doctor is focusing too much on your drug use: Politely remind them about the issue you are asking for help with. Ask the doctor to explain how your drug use is related to the issue you are asking for help with. If you disagree, explain this to the doctor in a friendly way—or find a new doctor.
Here are examples of things you can say to the doctor when you don’t want to talk about drug use:
- “I hear what you are saying and maybe we can talk about my drug use later. Right now, I am more worried about .”
- “I understand that you are worried about my drug use but I am not ready to change that. I still care about my health and would like your help with now.”
- “Can you explain exactly how my drug use will impact ? I do want to feel better, and I don’t want to change my use right now. Maybe there are some other things I can do now?”
- “If I can’t change my drug use right now, are there other things I can do to take care of my health? Maybe then we can start to talk more about my drug use.”
Tips for Communicating with Your Doctor
- Your relationship with your doctor is important—it’s great when you can work as a team.
- If doctors, nurses, or other staff don’t speak your language, you have a right to a translator.
- Ask questions until you understand. It’s OK to ask for simpler answers. You have a right to understand your health care.
- Be as honest as you can be. If you can’t talk about everything right away, it’s OK.
- Be patient with your doctor—just as you want them to be patient with you. Remember that they are only human too and have good and bad days.
- Stand up for yourself in a polite way. You can be firm, and still be friendly!
- Trust yourself. If you think that the doctor is ignoring something important—ask questions. This can be hard, but in the end, your health is worth the extra effort.
- Be careful about getting angry or defensive. Anger or aggressiveness will probably make the doctor stop listening and try to end the visit quickly.
- You know best what will and will not work for you. Talk to your doctor if you think he/she is making an unrealistic plan for you. This is very important when taking your prescription medication.
- Take notes or ask the doctor to write down important things for you.
- Give positive feedback when things go well—let doctors know when they get it right!