What About Confidentiality and Anonymity?

We speak of “confidentiality” in detox and treatment, and “anonymity” in some of the recovery groups, such as AA, NA, Overeaters Anonymous, and so forth.  What does all of this stuff mean, and why should we care about it?

Well, let's handle confidentiality first, because many of its principles apply to anonymity as well.

Confidentiality in drug and alcohol treatment is guaranteed specifically by Federal law.  We have to keep your information confidential or we can lose our license to operate, draw some humongous fines and, depending on the circumstances, someone could even go to jail.  There are laws specific to mental health services, and also general statutes that cover all health care issues.  Pretty ironclad, the Federal requirements — and there are State laws as well.

Then there is the common sense factor.  If you knew that people would be blabbing all over about your being in detox or other treatment, and that the issues and information that you share with us here could be spread around to haunt you later, how likely would you be to seek help? Quite a few folks would wait too long to do so, and some of them would die.  That's a pretty grave responsibility.  Quite apart from the effect it would have on our business here, we have an ethical obligation to you.  We can't discharge it unless you trust us.  It's that simple.

Anonymity is the rule in the recovery and support groups that you will (we hope) choose to attend after detox and treatment.  Would you walk into a 12–Step meeting if you knew that someone would be telling all their friends about it an hour later?  Some of us (I was among them) figure it doesn't matter, since our drinking and drugging was pretty common knowledge anyway.  But if you want anonymity, you've got it.  The only person who is at all likely to divulge it is you, and the time and place and people involved have to be your choice as well.

There's also the issue of anonymity as it applies to the program itself.  It keeps folks from getting too big a head.  I can go lecture about alcoholism and addiction all I please, to whomever I please.  I can even get paid for it.  But I cannot represent myself as a member of an “anonymous” group, at least by name, when I do it. I can't be “Mister AA,” or “Mister Pill Addicts Anonymous.”  I'm going to be repudiated by those organizations the minute I try.  “He doesn't speak for us.  We have no opinions on issues outside the fellowship.”

Then too, what if “Mister AA” were to be taken drunk, after publicly proclaiming his membership?  How many folks would take that as an excuse to say, “See…told you that crap doesn't work!  Gimme another beer!”  Again, people who need the program could, through having their own denial fed, end up dead because of my ego.

There are other good reasons for confidentiality and anonymity, but these are the high points.   More here.