It may feel overwhelming to seek employment after being out of the workforce due to an addiction-related issue, and the stress of this process can often lead to feelings of wanting to use drugs or alcohol all over again. Those feelings can escalate an individuals’ sense of being overwhelmed even further.
Positive Aspects of Getting Back to Work
However, working after rehab is a very constructive way to maintain sobriety and recovery. Working helps to create schedule structure, stability, self-confidence, and manageable accountability. Having a new job also can help individuals think constructively about what they want their future to look like, and help them assess their life goals in recovery.
Concerns About Going Back to Work after Rehab
Often, individuals coming out of recovery have significant anxieties about going back to work. They anticipate having to answer questions about “what happened” to them while they were out of the workforce, and may be anxious about how much to disclose – if at all—that they were receiving treatment for a substance abuse issue.
They may also be apprehensive about explaining past work history gaps or leaving other jobs, if there was a connection to substance abuse. Other individuals may worry before they even get a new job about how they will cope with stressors at work that they previously avoided through substance use, and also about potentially being triggered to use by those stressors.
It is not necessary to disclose to a potential employer that a past work history gap is related to a substance abuse issue, and substance abuse treatment records are protected by healthcare privacy standards. Unless past substance abuse or treatment may affect an individuals’ ability to perform the job for which they are being considered, this information is not necessarily pertinent to the prospective employer.
Coping with Stress Without Drugs or Alcohol
Individuals in recovery benefit from having a proactive plan in place with established strategies for coping with stress, triggers, and cravings.
Recovery strategy plans for work should include concrete plans for utilizing coping skills and supports (therapists, sponsors, groups, friends & family, etc.).
Individuals should have open and honest discussions with their support network and plan for these challenges with the assumption that it is not a matter of if these stressors occur, but when, as they are an expected experience in recovery.
Having well-thought out and realistic plans to support individuals when they inevitably experience emotional and physical triggers in the workplace is a smart way to maintain one’s recovery journey.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020