The stress of dealing with addiction can bring a person’s life to a screeching halt. Between all the different facets of life — domestic, familial and professional — addiction can wreak havoc in a matter of months or even weeks. But many people struggling with substance abuse have a harder time reconciling addiction, treatment and recovery with one particular area: their jobs.
If you’re gainfully employed and experiencing symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction, you’re not alone. Although many people visualize addiction as an obviously debilitating condition, a huge number of sufferers manage to lead lives and hold down jobs without attracting suspicion — at least, for a while.
Even when a person knows that their addiction is unsustainable, they still may not have the confidence to seek help. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reminds us of one vital fact:
The main reason people avoid getting formal treatment for addiction is simple fear, and that fear can be exaggerated even further in the area of one’s career. In addition, the ability to hold down a job can convince substance abusers that their problem isn’t bad enough to seek treatment. But the primary worry of addicted workers is that seeking rehab treatment will cause them to lose their job — and possibly their homes and families in the process.
To help alleviate this kind of fear about addiction treatment, we’ve created a comprehensive overview of what rehab means for your job, and how to pick a program that works for you.
Understanding Addiction in the Workforce
It’s a good idea to start with getting a handle on just how many working Americans struggle with substance abuse. Thanks to a far-reaching study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), we can see that substance abuse and addiction to alcohol or illicit drugs is more widespread in the workforce than most people would imagine.
- Among those who worked full-time and were between 18 and 64 years old, 8.7% of respondents had used alcohol heavily within the previous month.
- A full 9.5% of study participants were either dependent on or had abused either illicit drugs or alcohol in the last year.
Nearly a tenth of the entire full-time workforce is currently addicted or has at one time needed treatment for substance abuse. For that very reason, rehab centers often offer options suited to the needs of employed individuals. These programs understand the needs and concerns of people about their work, as well as providing all the care and services of “standard” rehab treatment — but what does that entail?
The Basics of Rehab
If you’re concerned about how rehab can affect your job, you might be tempted to avoid the subject altogether. But it’s important to know what options you have for treatment so you can begin recovery in the right environment. Treatment categories are usually split into residential and outpatient programs, so let’s take a look at what that means.
This is the form of rehab most people immediately envision — leaving home to spend 30 days in a treatment facility. For those who need round-the-clock care or supervision, residential rehab is ideal. Among the benefits offered in an inpatient rehab program, these stand out:
- Access to a safe, drug and alcohol-free recovery space
- Professional and peer support
- Comprehensive medical and clinical care
- Medication management
- Time away from stress and distraction
Though residential rehab has been proven to work the most effectively, you may have concerns about it as well. It’s undeniably difficult to carve out a whole month to focus on your recovery, especially when it comes to your job. Many hourly employees will not be able to arrange this kind of work hiatus — but the benefits are certainly worth it when they can.
If taking a block of time off for treatment just isn’t feasible in your line of work, outpatient programs are here to help. They’re exactly what they sound like — rehab treatments that allow you to spend nights and usually weekends at home. This is an excellent opportunity for hourly workers, if they’re able to adjust their schedules, and for salaried workers who can do at least some of their work from home. In addition, most programs are customizable, allowing participants to receive the same basic treatments they would in an inpatient format — plus options like:
- Physical activity such as yoga or team sports
- Arts and crafts classes
- Meditation and mindfulness seminars
- Education or career counselling
Rehab is there to work for you, so finding the right balance of treatment and holistic supplementation is the best chance you have at laying a foundation for lifelong recovery. But what are your rights when it comes to rehab and your job?
Rehab, Recovery and Employment Law
One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of seeking rehab treatment is the idea of asserting your needs to your employer. Most people aren’t aware of the laws surrounding workers who need treatment for substance abuse and addiction, and even those laws can be difficult to track down. Luckily, SAMHSA has released a guide to knowing your rights when it comes to addiction and discrimination.
Keeping Your Job
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a little-known asset for many employees who need treatment. It grants a substantial group of workers the right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a one-year period, if they need to receive treatment for a “serious health condition”—and substance abuse is included in the FMLA’s definition. However, there are some stipulations that determine who is eligible:
- The act covers government employers as well as public and private elementary schools, and private employers with 50 or more employees.
- The worker must have been employed for at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours in the year leading up to the leave. They must also work at or within 75 miles of a site with at least 50 employees.
- The FMLA means it’s illegal for employers to deny leave or take any action against an employee who requests leave. In fact, denying an employee leave for substance abuse treatment can constitute a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act.
On the other hand, this act doesn’t cover the discipline or firing of employees for non-discriminatory reasons. So, employees who break workplace rules or are still using illegal drugs can be fired for those legitimate reasons.
Getting a New Job
If you’re in the market for a new job but aren’t sure how rehab will affect your chances of getting hired, the good news is that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act have your back.
For State and local government employers as well as private employers with 15 or more employees, the ADA is your watchdog. The Rehabilitation act covers Federal employers as well as any employers who receive grants, contracts or other aid from the Federal government. These are the rules that employers have to stick to:
- They can’t deny a job or fire someone on the basis of their participation in treatment or recovery from addiction — unless the substance abuse disorder caused concern about safety or competent job performance.
- Employers have to provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities to perform their job duties. In many cases, this can involve changing work hours to accommodate treatment — as long as the change doesn’t cause the employer “undue hardship” in the form of difficulty or expense.
- They must keep any medical information, including any about past or present substance abuse, totally confidential.
These protections only extend to those who are qualified for the jobs and don’t pose a threat to workplace health or safety.
The bottom line is, there are more protections out there than you might think for employees and jobseekers who have undergone treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. While that doesn’t mean that working through drug rehab is easy, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize the stress.
Facing Workplace Fears
Even with the law on your side, working through treatment or returning after a residential stint is often a harrowing experience. In addition to the day-to-day stress of having a job, the stigma surrounding addiction and treatment can put a real damper on your confidence and work performance. Here are some tips on going to rehab while keeping your job — and your sanity.
Breaking Down Stress
Because addiction so often arises as a method of coping with stress, the workplace environment can wreak havoc on your recovery if you’re not careful. One of the ultimate goals of rehab is to instill healthy coping mechanisms that allow you to handle stress without hitting the bottle or your former drug of choice — but that doesn’t mean stress stops existing.
There are three main areas where stress can crop up at work:
It goes without saying that your relationship with your boss is one of the most important aspects of your working life. If you’re worried your supervisor will react to you taking leave for treatment by acting unfairly upon your return, study up further on the ADA and FMLA to make sure you know your stuff.
Unfortunately, there’s often little you can do to change a superior’s mind if they are prejudiced against you for going to treatment — but fortunately they can’t act on their discriminatory views. Letting them know you’re aware of your rights can restore some peace of mind.
Of course, the most stressful part of work is the work itself. Many people working through treatment find that workload stress is the biggest trigger for substance abuse behavior. If you’re tempted to turn back to illicit drugs or alcohol when you’re up against the wall, these techniques can help alleviate some of the stress:
- Making physical lists of your responsibilities
- Prioritizing tasks and planning before you start them
- Making space in your work routine for meditative or mindfulness exercises
At work, the name of the game is organization. If your priorities, tasks and headspace are relatively in order, it’s much harder for emotional chaos to take over. Feeling out-of-control when it comes to work can be one of the biggest factors in potential relapse. Take charge of what you can, but accept that not everything is within your control.
The social aspect of the workplace can take a bigger toll on those in recovery than most of us want to admit. Every office or establishment is full of workers from different backgrounds, with different attitudes and habits — and some of them are more likely than others to discriminate against you on the basis of rehab treatment. When deciding to work through treatment or when returning from it, you can ask yourself these questions:
- Do my coworkers know about my decision to enroll in treatment for addiction?
- If not, do I want to tell them about it?
- Is there anyone in particular whose reaction I am worried about?
- Am I aware of any relevant human resources rules regarding harassment and discrimination?
As always, preparation is the best way to ensure you’re not caught off guard. If you’re keeping your job while going to rehab and worried that some of your coworkers’ attitudes will make your life more difficult, seek out a trusted authority pre-emptively. Having an ally in HR or management can make the transition much smoother and less likely to mess with your recovery success.
The Right Rehab for You
Now that you know some of the ins and outs involved in going to rehab and keeping your job, it’s time to find the best treatment program for your situation. Reaching out for help beating substance abuse is one of the hardest decisions a person can make, but the benefits far outweigh the emotional investment. The support, care and encouraging environment of rehab can provide you with the foundation you need to cut addiction out of your life forever.
Whether you are able to take leave for treatment or reschedule your work to accommodate an outpatient program, only rehab combines the medical and clinical care you need to jumpstart a permanent recovery. By focusing inclusively on emotional and spiritual health as well as nutrition, rehab helps you reboot your habits and attitudes surrounding substance abuse.
Success in sobriety and your career aren’t mutually exclusive. With the many available programs that cater to and understand the struggles of workers and professionals, you’ll be able to find a treatment solution that fits your lifestyle and needs. Don’t let the fear and stress of working through drug rehab stop you from getting the help that you need — there are even post-treatment programs that can guide you through the new beginning of life and your job after the intensive work of rehab is over.
Don’t let addiction suffocate your career — take action today and find a rehab that works for you.