Self Disclosure in Addiction Recovery

There’s a lot of stigma regarding drug addiction. After all, look at the many problems are associated with it: legal issues, financial problems, health and relationship concerns, etc. I mean a recovering addict just can’t catch a break these days.

But seriously, for those who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction there is a legitimate fear about sharing their story with others, and for a variety of reasons. Certainly, the workplace is one environment where those in recovery choose to remain “anonymous.” It’s understandable that in many professions it is necessary to keep one’s recovery “in the closet.” Some jobs have mandatory drug tests, not that this is an issue for someone in recovery but there may be questions on the job application about past drug use. This can be a double-edged sword. If you respond that you have used drugs in the past that may work against you. But if you decide to answer falsely then it could come back to haunt you down the road.

In my work as a drug counselor, I rarely disclose my recovery but when it is appropriate I may do so. Typically, this is done to help the client understand a specific concept. I never want to take the focus off my client’s needs.

Dating is another place where discretion is also employed…sometimes. When I met my wife 20 years ago at a party she asked me if I drank. I replied, “No” and when she asked why I said, “I’m recovering.” Call me naïve but I had no idea that we would eventually be a pair. Basically, I felt like I had nothing to hide and I was comfortable with being in recovery. For some in recovery this is a particularly tough area. On the one hand, if the individual is open about their recovery the other person may not respond affirmatively. Or, if the addict keeps their recovery a secret initially, when the truth surfaces later there may be a problem.

In the end, announcing that you are recovering is not something to be taken lightly. As the old saying goes, “discretion is the better part of valor.” When I first got clean I kept my history a closely guarded secret. As time passed, I became more open, however I still tend to wear my recovery “close to the vest.” When I am in social situations and someone asks if I want a drink I simply say, “No thanks.” If questioned further I simply say, “I’m recovering.” Case closed. I do not owe anyone an explanation.

In the end, it is your decision to make. Remember, it is not necessary to prove anything to anyone. When you are recovering from addiction, your recovery should speak for itself. What you are accomplishing is something to be proud of, whether you tell someone or not.

Have you self-disclosed recently?

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2012, July 30). Self Disclosure in Addiction Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

August, 9 2012 at 7:04 am

I believe that self-disclosure, while risky, can be a very useful tool. I was working with a client who was dealing with bipolar disorder (something I know all too well). She kept telling me that I didn't understand what she was going through because I'm not bipolar. To break down the walls she was setting up, I told her, mind you not going into specifics or over-sharing, about my experiences with bipolar disorder. From that day on, whenever we worked together, she would talk to me more openly about her life and what was going on for her.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 9 2012 at 2:41 pm

I try to disclose only when necessary however it can be a helpful tool in developing a positive therapeutic relationship. I agree that it can be a useful tool but should not be used to take the focus off the client.
Thanks for commenting!

August, 4 2012 at 3:45 am

GREAT post, Karl!

Bryan Zepp
August, 1 2012 at 8:25 am

Thank you so much Karl..appreciate the feedback!
Best Wishes,

Bryan Zepp
August, 1 2012 at 7:28 am

I write a blog dealing about insights of life and living. I recently published an entry on my own meth addiction and my story. Sometimes in order for someone to really connect with another they have to be totally honest about their past and disclose. I would recommend that you base your decision on whether to disclose or not on a case by case basis. Using your best judgement. Check me out on and read "Addictions can be subtle and tricky things." I think you will be glad you did.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 1 2012 at 8:07 am

Bryan - I read your post. What a story. It takes a lot of courage to open up as you have, but then again, when we have nothing to hide, we can discover true freedom from the demons that have haunted us. Keep on writing!

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