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Ethics and Addiction Counseling

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Confidentiality has been defined in The Social Work Dictionary as: A principle of ethics according to which the social worker or other professional may not disclose information about a client without the client's consent. This information includes the identity of the client, content of overt verbalizations, professional opinions about the client, and material from the records. In specific circumstances, social workers and other professionals may be compelled by law to reveal to designated authorities some information (such as threats of violence, commission of crimes, and suspected child abuse) that would be relevant to legal judgments (Barker, 1995).

In the 1996 revision, confidentiality is highlighted in three specific areas of practice: with clients, with colleagues, and in research. In Section 1.07 of the current Social Work Code of Ethics eighteen different categories of responsibility social workers have towards their clients' confidentiality are outlined (NASW, 1996, revised 1999).

            The fact that there are eighteen provisions, more than any other area in the code, demonstrates the importance of confidentiality to the profession of social work. These points specifically address what is considered confidential material, with whom and when that material can be released, and when and how this information should be explained to clients. Specific highlights include:

            Social workers have permission to disclose information only with the proper consent of the client. Social workers should inform clients about confidentiality, and when and to whom disclosure is appropriate. Social workers cannot disclose information to third party payers without consent of the client.     Social workers should not discuss confidential information unless privacy can be assured. Confidentiality should be maintained in a technological office that includes computers, faxes, and cellular phones.

            Exceptions to confidentiality; there are times in the course of the client-worker relationship that the client may voluntarily rescind confidentiality. There are other times where confidentiality is not legally binding on the social worker. These circumstances relate to safety of the client or others.

            Important issues related to confidentiality include client consent, duty to warn, and privileged communication. Consent. There are many times where it would be beneficial for a social worker to talk to others who are involved in the client's life. This might focus on obtaining third party reimbursement, additional history, collateral collaboration, court testimony or sharing information with other service providers. With managed care, clients generally want reassurance that their sessions will be covered, but that only the minimum amount of information is provided to the insurance company (Corcoran & Winslade, 1994). Therefore, clients often allow social workers to release information to insurance providers, including diagnosis and treatment plans, but rely on workers to not divulge every aspect of their drug and/or alcohol use.

            A second occasion when a social worker may seek a client's consent is in pursuing additional history from collateral sources or corroboration of information. This will occur primarily during initial assessment; however, it might take place later during the treatment process. For instance,

when a client is admitted to a psychiatric unit, there may be a need for additional information such as family history of psychiatric disorders or substance abuse, the precipitating event, or the client's current living arrangements. Such additional information, usually provided

by a family member, may be beneficial in making an assessment and verifying a client's information.

Findings of confidentiality in substance abuse counseling are scholarly in that it shows how applying the standard confidentiality rules for basic social work practice is not adequate or acceptable when working with substance abusing clients and may well cause legal and ethical difficulties.

Comparison is most exhibited in the above articles mostly in the way of addressing practitioners know how which is clearly a hindrance in effective counseling. All articles observe reluctance on part of therapists in observing ethics code. Also all three articles address ethical issues in counseling. Furthermore all articles observe the importance of practitioners to observe code of ethics. All three articles support each other.

Information in all the articles can be synthesized in terms of observing substance councelling which is discussed in all the articles. This can address all issues brought forward in addiction councelling. By broadly talking about ethical issues in substance addiction councelling, this will address all concerns.


Barker, R.., Duncan, J. & Lees, A. (1989). Society for the Study of Addiction to Alcohol     and      other Drugs. N.Y: McMillan.

Barbara S. (2005). Substance abuse Treatment, 257

Cohen, A., & Hatherleigh, L. (2000). Directions in Substance Abuse Counseling.California: McGraw.

Kevin, C., William J. (1994). Behave Sci Law Addiction and the law: confidentiality to      disclosure. Oxford: OUP.

Kerry J Breen, Venon P, Stephen C. (1997). Ethics, law and Medical Practice, 367

Marlatt, G A., Baer J. S.,Donvan, D. M., & Kivlahan., D. R. (1988). “Addictive behaviors:           etiology and             treatment.” British journal of addiction, 83 (2), 171-81.

(NASW). (1996, revised 1999). “National Association of Social”. Journal of Addiction and         Offender Counseling. 17(1), 35-42.

Powledge, T. M. (1999).Addiction and the brain”. Bioscience, 49(7), 513-519.

Scott, C.G. (2000). Ethical Issues in Addiction Counseling. University of North Florida.

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You are here: Home Blog Samples Ethics and Addiction Counseling