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While many treatment centers want only the best for their clients and strictly adhere to a code of ethics, some centers are motivated by profit alone and demonstrate unethical behavior in addiction treatment. Some take it one step further and violate the law. Let’s take a closer look at some forms of unethical behavior in addiction treatment centers, so you’ll recognize what to avoid.

1. Misrepresentation of Services

Treatment centers should accurately represent the services they provide, the types of issues they treat, and the credentials of their medical and professional staff. Addiction treatment centers should also reveal all aspects of their facilities, locations, and amenities.

This information should be available for prospective clients in telephone conversations, websites and in printed brochures.1 In all instances of information provided by a treatment center, the details should always be thorough and accurate. Treatment centers that don’t follow these rules could be misrepresenting their services.

2. Misleading Information

The physical location and types of treatment that are provided at each location should be clearly stated to prospective clients. Also, the insurance types they accept and other basic information should be clear. This applies to all forms of communication.

There are cases of centers using the internet and web advertising to make it appear that they provide treatment in many cities and states when, in reality, their facility is found in only one city or state. While the idea may be that they can help people from any location, it shouldn’t seem to individuals seeking treatment close to home that a facility offers treatment nearby when it doesn’t.

Also, a treatment center shouldn’t lead people to believe that their insurance will be accepted when it will not. Misrepresenting a program, amenity or specialty which they do not offer is unethical as well. Misleading information could also include advertising that makes it seem as though one center is another.

3. Procuring Clients Illegally

In the healthcare industry, the referral or placement of a client for a fee is unethical as well as illegal in some states.2 While this might be common practice in other fields such as financial services, in healthcare it’s not done by ethical people. Since lives are at stake, clients should always be referred to a treatment facility or health care provider that will give them the best outcomes. Referrals should be made based on clinical specialties, facility and staff experience, clientage, cultural aspects and other diagnoses.

4. Illegal or Unethical Behavior in Addiction Treatment in California

The State of California’s Department of Health Care Services regulates substance abuse treatment programs and facilities.3 They license all detox, residential and day treatment programs. The DHCS also certifies intensive outpatient programs.

The CDHCS looks into complaints on all of these types of facilities. They also investigate sober living homes that should be licensed or certified as treatment programs but are not. If treatment services are provided at a sober living home, such as counseling, psychotherapy or medical services, the home is considered a residential treatment center that needs to be licensed as such. If a sober living home bills insurance companies for care, it’s a signal they are, in fact, not a sober living home and should be licensed.


  1. http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
  2. http://www.azfamily.com/story/34358336/saving-lives-or-selling-souls-dark-side-of-addiction-recovery
  3. http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/individuals/Pages/Sud-Complaints.aspx
4 Signs of Unethical Behavior in Addiction Treatment Centers
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