Federal Legal Rights Patients With Substance Abuse History

There are millions of Americans struggling with substance abuse. The prevalence of the condition makes it important to discuss the legal rights of those having problems with drugs and alcohol.

Laws govern your rights while being treated in a rehab treatment center. Prior to treatment, people struggling with substance abuse also have legal rights. The same is also true after one gets out of the facility. It is important to note, however, that you could be facing sanctions based on behavior and demeanor induced by the addiction. This is a whole different story considering the possible presence of legitimate grounds for an action against you.

The Dilemma

A lot of individuals opt not to enter a rehab treatment center out of fear for the repercussions at work. They fear the discrimination or labeling they will experience. They also fear punishment in the workplace as well as the potential release of treatment information.

While it is true that those who continue to use and abuse illegal drugs have very limited protection under both state and federal statutes, those who have sought treatment and remained sober enjoy full legal protection. Laws such as The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records, The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), The Workforce Investment Act, and The Americans with Disabilities Act are all in place for your protection.

Right to Confidentiality and Privacy

You can always call a rehab treatment center to ask about their privacy policies. This is to empower you to make the decision about whether or not you are at ease with the way the program handles their patients’ information.

The HIPAA affords you with confidentiality to protect your information. Under this law, patient information cannot be released unless you have given your consent or the same is authorized based on qualifying regulations.

The fines for violating the law can be severe. Fines can range from $500 to $5000. Furthermore, state-certified or licensed professionals may lose their certifications if they violate these provisions. The patient can also sue any person who divulges their information without their consent.

Once you have completed the intake interviews, the rehab treatment center should be giving you a copy of their confidentiality and privacy guidelines that outlines your rights as a patient. Employees of the center also sign these confidentiality agreements.

The Limitations Under HIPAA

This law governs all the information pertaining to a person who is seeking treatment, has been diagnosed, or is getting treatment for substance abuse at a federally assisted program. In case of disclosure authorized under qualifying regulations, the same should only provide minimal information. This means revealing just enough to carry out the purpose of the disclosure. The same regulations apply even to minors giving out their consent to their parent or guardian regarding the release of information.

The Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Record

Under this law, substance abuse rehab centers are prohibited from sharing information that will identify the person having prior or current struggle with drugs and alcohol. This is unless the patients give written consent thereto. But there are exceptions to this such as medical emergencies, program evaluation, scientific research, the commission of a crime by the patient, and court-ordered release of information.

The release of information in cases of exception to the rule on patient’s written consent is not absolute. Only a certain amount of information may be divulged. An example is when a patient commits a crime. Only the name, address, and last known location may be divulged. For instance, if the patient has committed child abuse, the treatment facility can only make the initial report of abuse and neglect.

Rights on the Job

Employers must provide employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave when medically necessary. They cannot punish or sanction an employee applying for a medical leave. However, the concerned employee should meet certain requirements to be eligible for said grant such as having worked with the company for more than a year.

In the event the employers gain access to medically related information due to insurance and other reasons, they should treat the information with the utmost confidentiality. This means they cannot disclose it to other persons or entities without the employee’s consent.

The employer must also give reasonable concessions to an employee.  An example is the alteration of the work schedule to permit an individual to go to a regular meeting with a therapist.

A potential employer may not ask for your history of substance abuse. They also cannot discriminate for you seeking medical treatment. The law does not allow employers to ask about it.

Additionally, you have the right to gain access to state and federal job placement and even employment training. This is regardless of your history of abuse or treatment.

Right to Facilities Providing Public Service

People with a history of addiction cannot be denied access to go to facilities that give services to the public. Included in the list of such facilities are emergency shelters, universities, schools, daycare centers, hospitals, and senior centers.

Right to Government Services

People with histories of substance abuse can may not be denied government services if addiction is the reason. You can very well avail of housing assistance, social or welfare assistance, and employment or job assistance.

Seek for Help

You can rise above the issue of substance abuse. All you have to do is seek help and enter a rehab treatment center. It has a full recovery program that can help you with your addiction. The first step when seeking treatment is the detoxification. Many patients find this stage as the hardest they need to go through. Medical professionals will be with you every step of the way.

After leaving the confines of the rehab treatment center, the patients can still go to meetings and therapy sessions to help them process the challenges of remaining sober.

Going to rehab is not just about sobriety. It is about equipping you with the tools needed to live a healthy, fulfilling, and satisfying life that is free any form of substance abuse. So, know your rights, but also know that you are not alone.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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