How Confidential Is Drug Treatment Actually?

When a person is considering getting treatment for their substance abuse issues, they should not have to worry about their situation being kept confidential. According to the law, everybody has a right to have their treatment be confidential. Whether they are trying to get a job, housing, or be part of a government program, and more, a person’s history of struggling with substance abuse is confidential under the law.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records

In 1975, the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records (42 CFR Part 2) was issued. It was revised in 1987. This is a regulation that clearly states any substance abuse treatment program is not permitted to share any information about a patient. This is referring to information that would directly or indirectly identify an individual as previously or currently having problems with drugs or alcohol.


Confidentiality laws were also created by the Federal government to protect a person’s medical history. In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created. All drug and alcohol treatment centers are required by law to follow HIPPA.


Should any hospital or treatment center be found in violation of HIPPA, they could face fines of up to $500 for the first offense. They could also be fined as much as $5,000 for each additional offense. Any employee who is licensed or state-certified could have their license revoked or certification taken away if they violate any HIPPA privacy laws. A patient also has the right to sue anyone who discloses their medical information without consent.

Requirements Of HIPPA

There are certain requirements concerning patient confidentiality all rehab centers, hospitals, and other similar types of organizations must follow.

  • Guidelines must be posted concerning their privacy practices. Copies of this must be provided to clients.
  • Safeguards must be in place and utilized to protect client information
  • Employees must be trained concerning the best ways to maintain patient confidentiality.
  • Procedures must be used that maintain the number of people with access to confidential information to a minimum.

Patient’s Rights

HIPPA provides individuals in drug and alcohol treatment programs with rights over who has access to their health records.

  • They have the right to file a complaint if there is a reason to believe their health information has not been properly protected.
  • They have the right to be informed if their personal information is shared.
  • They have the right to be given a report on when and why any type of health practitioner shared their personal information.
  • They have the right to refuse permission for their personal information to be used in certain ways.

Extenuating Circumstances

There are certain extenuating circumstances when the disclosure of medical information could occur. In these situations, a limited amount of patient information could be permitted to be disclosed.

  • Court-Ordered Release. Should a patient be served with a subpoena and willingly sign a consent form permitting the release of requested information mentioned in the subpoena.
  • Crimes – Should a patient be accused of committing a crime at a treatment center or against the center’s employees, a limited release of patient information can be provided to law enforcement.
  • Medical Emergencies – This makes it possible for specific information to be shared with medical personnel when it is necessary to treat a patient for a medical emergency.
  • Child Abuse – Treatment centers will comply with state and federal laws that require a report be made of child neglect or abuse. They can only provide an initial report. Follow-up requests can not be accommodated unless consent is given by the patient.

Responsible Parties

Any organization that receives federal assistance and provides drug or alcohol addiction treatment must follow all confidential laws. Individual practitioners such as psychiatrists, therapists, and physicians are responsible for following confidential laws. All freestanding organizations as well as those that are part of a larger institution must comply with legal confidentiality requirements. This includes all detox programs operating within a major hospital. Regulations must also be obeyed by all program staff. This includes support personnel, clinical staff, part-time, full-time workers as well as administrative staff. Patient confidentiality regulations are far-reaching. They have been designed to protect a patient’s privacy in all situations.

The law is very clear when it comes to protecting the confidentiality of a patient’s records. No patients should fear anyone finding out they are getting addiction treatment. This should not prevent someone from getting the help they need. If you or a loved one is looking for help with a substance abuse problem call us today at 844-639-8371. We can help you 24 hours a day.

Scroll to Top