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Getting Back to Work After Struggling With Addiction

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 20 May 2024

Recovering from an addiction is hard work. Seeking treatment requires courage that many people do not have. Once treatment is over, it’s time to return to life as the new you — sober, productive, and ready to succeed.

  • What You'll Learn

Going back to work is a key part of recovery. Your job provides structure in your day, gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose, and helps you build both self-esteem and income. However, it may be intimidating to return to your job after recovery.

Here are some ways you can make your transition back to work smooth as you continue on your sobriety journey.

Know You’re Not the Only One

Other people have significant struggles in their lives, just as you do. Remembering this can help you feel less alone at work. Just because someone’s difficulties aren’t visible doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

You probably have coworkers who struggle with addiction as well, even if they don’t share it. You’re not alone on an island of recovery. There are probably many, many coworkers there with you.

Keep this in mind if you feel alone or isolated as you complete treatment. You’re not the only one!

Decide What to Share

When you return to work, you aren’t required to share anything about where you’ve been during your leave. Even your supervisor doesn’t have to know. All your boss needs to know is that you were out on Family Medical Leave (FMLA) and what dates that covered.

It’s certainly a struggle to overcome the stigma associated with addiction. If you don’t feel strong enough for that battle, don’t engage in it. If people ask, you can say you were out for health reasons, and you’re glad to be back.

Another option is to share details with those you trust while being general with everyone else. If this is what you choose, be sure those you confide in are trustworthy. Otherwise, you might find your personal information circulating in the rumor mill.

Finally, you can decide to be completely open with what you’re going through. This can help others struggling with addiction face their demons and result in your coworkers supporting you more than you expected. Just be sure you’re ready for some negativity as well.

Make New Habits

Work can give you the normalcy you need to create a new structure and develop new habits. You can build relationships with people based on something other than your addiction — look for shared hobbies or other interests.

However, some aspects of work may be triggers, and you’ll want to work on strategies to manage them. You might elect to replace unhealthy socializing with other outlets, such as choosing to meet coworkers for coffee or pizza instead of a beer at the bar.

Avoiding old triggers is essential to your recovery, and you can enlist your work friends to help you. You don’t have to mention you’re in recovery unless you want to — simply become an advocate for chemical-free fun!

Know Your Rights

Many people recovering from addiction don’t realize the number of rights they have under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Addiction is an illness that can be treated and recovered from, like many others, and that process is legally protected.

For instance, you can’t lose your job if you go to treatment. Once a doctor declares you “fit for duty” at work, you can return without being questioned by coworkers or bosses about where you’ve been.

You can use FMLA leave to get protected time off for doctor’s appointments and continued treatment if needed. If there are medically-required restrictions, your workplace has to provide reasonable accommodations.

Your doctor or rehab center may be able to set up these accommodations for you, or you might have to meet with Human Resources yourself. Either way, knowing your rights will give you confidence as you return to work and move forward in your new life.

If You Need a Job Change

Sometimes your old job isn’t the right fit for your new ambitions. Perhaps your friends there were major triggers, or the workplace just isn’t a good fit for you anymore. In this case, you’ll find yourself looking for a new job.

You don’t qualify for social security disability payments for substance addiction unless it causes an irreversible medical condition. That means that you’ll need consistent work to provide your income.

As you interview, you’ll need a strategy to address the gaps in your resume. You can be honest without telling your potential employer everything. For instance, mention that you had a short-term health condition that is now cleared up. That’s true!

Make sure what you say is consistent with what you publicly share on social media. While a potential employer can’t see your “friends only” posts, they can see anything you make public, along with your comments on others’ public posts.

If you choose to be completely open about your treatment, there is a risk of losing out on the job. However, you can focus on what you’ve learned about yourself and how you’ve grown as a person and a professional, which may impress a possible employer.

Once you’re hired, you have all the rights under the ADA mentioned before, so don’t be shy about using what you need.

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.