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When Should CPAs Refer Clients to Long-Term Addiction Treatment?

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) typically focus on financial matters, including tax planning, financial auditing, and management consulting. However, their close working relationship with clients can sometimes place them in a position to observe personal issues, such as substance use disorders, that affect financial decisions and stability. Below, we outline several circumstances under which a CPA might refer a person to a long-term treatment center like Burning Tree Ranch.

Who We Are

Burning Tree Ranch is a specialty program dedicated to the treatment of chronic addiction and mental health. Our program is long-term, progress-based, and highly intensive. Since 1999, we have supported countless referring professionals in delivering ethical, high-quality solutions to the clients and families they represent.

Circumstances for Referral to Long-Term Treatment

Financial Instability or Irresponsibility

If a client demonstrates unusual financial instability or irresponsibility, such as unexplained depletion of assets, frequent requests for loans, or erratic spending patterns, it might indicate underlying issues, including addiction.

Neglect of Financial Obligations

Observing that a client consistently neglects financial obligations, such as failing to make timely payments, ignoring tax obligations, or mismanaging business accounts, could suggest personal problems requiring professional intervention.

Impact on Business Operations

For clients who own or operate businesses, signs that personal issues are affecting business performance, decision-making, or financial health may prompt a CPA to suggest seeking help.

Concerns Expressed by Family Members

In some cases, family members or close associates of the client may express concerns directly to the CPA about the individual's behavior and its financial implications, suggesting the need for intervention.

Legal or Tax Problems Stemming from Addiction

Encountering legal or tax problems that appear to stem from substance use, such as legal fines, penalties for non-compliance, or issues related to fraud, can be a clear indicator that the client needs more than just financial advice.

Observations Informing the Need

Given their role, CPAs should approach the topic with sensitivity and professionalism, respecting client confidentiality. Referring a client to addiction treatment is not about crossing the bounds of professional expertise but about acknowledging that financial health is deeply intertwined with personal well-being. A CPA might not directly recommend a specific treatment program but could suggest consulting with a healthcare professional or offering resources for finding help, emphasizing the potential financial and personal benefits of addressing the issue.

Significant Changes in Financial Behavior: Noticing significant changes in an individual’s behavior, reliability, or decision-making that could indicate a struggle with addiction.

Lack of Focus or Engagement: If a client shows a noticeable decline in focus, engagement, or reliability in financial matters, it might indicate broader personal challenges, including addiction.

Physical or Emotional Signs of Distress: While CPAs are not health professionals, they may notice physical or emotional signs of distress during their interactions with clients, such as apparent withdrawal symptoms, unexplained physical injuries, or significant mood swings.

Confidential Disclosures: Clients may sometimes confide in their CPAs about personal struggles, including those related to substance use, especially if these issues are affecting their financial situation.

Arches at Burning Tree Ranch in Kaufman, TX
Clients may sometimes confide in their CPAs about personal struggles, including those related to substance use, especially if these issues are affecting their financial situation.

Navigating Client Relationships: When Estate & Probate Attorneys Encounter Addiction

The responsibility of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to recommend long-term chronic addiction treatment to a client is nuanced, primarily because CPAs are financial experts, not healthcare professionals. Their primary duty is to provide financial advice and services, including tax preparation, auditing, and financial planning. However, the CPA-client relationship often extends over many years, enabling CPAs to observe changes in their client’s personal and economic behavior that may indicate underlying issues such as addiction.

Ethical Considerations and Professional Boundaries

CPAs must recognize the limits of their professional expertise. While they can identify financial behaviors indicative of deeper problems, it is not their place to diagnose or treat addiction.

Part of a CPA’s ethical duty is to act in the best interests of their clients. This includes maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and due care in their professional services.

Indirect Support and Referral

CPAs might notice financial symptoms of addiction, such as erratic spending, depletion of assets, or unexplained financial distress. Recognizing these signs can place CPAs in a position to offer indirect support.

When appropriate, CPAs can sensitively suggest that clients seek professional advice for potential underlying issues affecting their financial health. This might involve recommending a conversation with a healthcare provider or specialist in addiction services, emphasizing the impact on financial stability and well-being.

Without overstepping professional boundaries, CPAs can offer resources or refer clients to professionals specializing in addiction and mental health. This approach respects the CPA’s professional limitations while acknowledging concern for the client’s well-being.

Balancing Professionalism and Compassion

Exhibiting professional compassion involves recognizing when a client may be struggling with issues beyond financial difficulties and offering a supportive nudge toward seeking help.

Any discussions or observations related to a client’s personal life must be handled with utmost confidentiality and respect for the client’s privacy.

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The CPA's Strategy: Utilizing Financial Planning to Motivate Addiction Treatment

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) holds a unique position of trust and confidentiality with clients, often providing advice beyond mere financial transactions to encompass broader aspects of clients’ lives, including their well-being. While CPAs are not health professionals, their insights into a client’s financial health can serve as a powerful motivator for seeking treatment for substance use disorders (SUD).


  • Highlighting Financial Consequences: A CPA can outline the direct financial impacts of substance use disorders, such as dwindling savings, increased debt, or the potential loss of assets. Demonstrating how treatment can mitigate these financial risks can be a strong motivator.
  • Connecting Treatment to Financial Recovery: By showing how treatment and recovery are integral to regaining financial stability and protecting future earnings, a CPA can make a compelling case for the benefits of addressing SUD.
  • Protecting Family and Business Interests: For clients with families or businesses, CPAs can emphasize how treatment is crucial for safeguarding the financial future of their loved ones and the viability of their businesses.
  • Utilizing Financial Planning as Incentive: CPAs can help create a post-treatment financial plan, providing a tangible goal for clients to look forward to and work towards, linking financial recovery with personal health.

Incorporating Leverage for Treatment

  • Estate and Trust Conditions: For clients involved in estate planning, CPAs can discuss with legal advisors the possibility of incorporating conditions related to treatment and recovery within trusts or wills, tying compliance to financial benefits.
  • Insurance Considerations: Highlighting the potential for reduced insurance costs, both health and life, following successful treatment and recovery can act as leverage, mainly when illustrating long-term financial savings.
  • Tax Implications: Informing clients about possible tax implications of their financial decisions while under the influence of an SUD and how treatment could lead to more favorable tax planning and outcomes can serve as a practical motivator.
  • Budgeting for Treatment: Assisting in the budgeting process for treatment, including exploring financing options or reallocating assets, can help clients see treatment as a financially viable option.
  • Financial Milestones Post-Treatment: Setting financial milestones that can be achieved post-treatment (such as saving for a home, college funds for children, or investment in a business venture) can motivate clients by linking their recovery to positive financial and personal achievements.

While a CPA’s primary role is to manage financial affairs, they can use their position to encourage clients to consider the broader implications of their health on their financial stability and family well-being, providing motivation and leveraging financial planning as a pathway to recovery.

Asking the Right Questions

Considering Long-Term Treatment for Your Client

The Need to Act

What are the circumstances?

What are the circumstances under which you may refer a person to long-term, chronic addiction treatment? What are you observing that informs you of the need to act?

Fiduciary Duty

What Is Your Professional Responsibility?

Do you have a moral or fiduciary responsibility to make a recommendation for long–term chronic addiction treatment for your client?

Motivation for Completing Treatment

What can be leveraged to motivate the client?

What motivation for treatment might you be able to create as a trusted professional serving a family’s best interest? How might you incorporate leverage for the client to go and complete treatment?

How Do I Know If My Loved One is a Fit for Burning Tree Ranch?

Answer a Few Short Questions

Authentic Long-Term Treatment

Burning Tree specializes in treatment for Chronic Relapse

We understand the complex, multi-faceted issues many of our families face when it comes to addiction. The circumstances of long-term residential treatment allow us to create a treatment program unlike anything else in the world.

Operating outside the limitations of a traditional 30, 60 or 90-day format, Burning Tree adheres to progress-based metrics that inform the clinical treatment team of the unique mental, emotional and spiritual needs of the individual.

We are the only treatment center in the United States that combines time-intensive residential treatment with a therapeutically coordinated aftercare program focused singularly on the treatment of chronic relapsers.

Burning Tree is a World-Renown Organization

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