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Drugs & Health Blog

Talking About Hard Stuff With Your Doctor

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Jack Maypole, M.D., Director of Pediatrics, South End Community Health Center

By Jack Maypole, M.D., Director, Comprehensive Care Program, Boston Medical Center. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine

As a pediatrician, I find that most teens I see in my office are pretty uncomfortable talking to me about personal habits that might affect their health, like smoking or using drugs or alcohol. I get it—a doctor’s routine questions during a visit could easily seem like a big invasion of a teen’s privacy. 

But doctors aren’t trying to embarrass you. In fact, doctors and nurse practitioners work hard to support teens’ privacy.

So, let’s clear up some questions and concerns you might have about talking openly to your doctor once Mom or Dad leaves the room. Every health care provider is different, but these ideas are gathered from treating teens for almost 15 years.

What You Say in the Exam Room Stays in the Exam Room

By middle school, most young people can and should answer questions about their own health. Parents usually are asked to leave the examination room, so the doctor and teen can talk frankly by themselves. Some kids feel exposed or a little freaked out—what will happen when the door closes?  Nothing crazy.

In fact, the goal for this chat is to make a space to discuss issues privately.   

Professional rules require health care providers to keep what our patients tell us private. We can’t break that trust without your say-so, unless there is a safety concern, like if you were at risk for hurting yourself or others.

Your doctor will likely ask you a short list of questions to find out how alcohol, drugs, or tobacco affect your life (or not). Check out the CRAFFT questionnaire, one of the question lists we use.

Why We Ask These Questions

“All adolescents are asked the exact same questions,” notes my colleague Christina Nordt, a doctor of Adolescent Medicine at Boston Medical Center. “So, teens should not feel like we are making judgments about them. We begin asking questions about drugs and alcohol once patients reach about 11 or 12 years old.”

The idea is to work with you to address potential problems—are you driving around with someone who you know is drunk or high? Has using or taking drugs or alcohol gotten beyond your control? Do any of these things put you at risk for getting sick or hurt, or put you in a place you’d rather not be?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Can you really go through withdrawl if u dont take your prescribed medicine?

@Zack There are many different kinds of prescribed medicine and they have different purposes and effects. To learn about the possible effects and other symptoms that taking (or not taking) a prescribed medicine may have it is best to ask your doctor.

In terms of taking prescribed medications in ways not prescribed, known as prescription drug abuse, you can find more information on the NIDA for Teens facts page about prescription drugs: