Tips to Return to Work Post-Addiction Treatment

By Jennifer Lezcano

Tips to Return to Work, post addiction treatmentHow do you balance your job and new responsibilities towards recovery? If you have just completed an inpatient substance abuse treatment program and plan on returning to work, you may have several questions.

Do I tell my boss that I was in rehab?

What do I tell co-workers who want to know where I’ve been these last couple of months?

How will I handle work responsibilities and my recovery?

These are all very valid questions and with time you will become more experienced and better able to handle situations you face.

When it comes to early recovery, we know it’s crucial that you plan your daily itinerary ahead of time, because having extra time can lead to boredom and boredom is a slippery slope for relapse. Planning ahead will allow you to handle unexpected questions and avoid certain situations that are risky for your recovery.

This blog will offer some valuable tips and suggestions for planning and transitioning back to your community and workplace following treatment.

To Disclose or Not To Disclose

If your employer hasn’t been a part of your recovery from the beginning and you’re returning to work, you may be wondering whether or not to tell them. You are not obligated to tell them. By law, a person is entitled to take medical leave without disclosure of the issues or problems. However, you may want to inform your HR Manager in case you need some more help with your recovery. This could include time off or an adjustment in work hours to accommodate counsellor appointments or 12 step meetings. This disclosure to your HR manager should be confidential! Honesty really is the best policy.

Relationships with Co-workers

So far, you’ve had experience ending relationships with people in your personal life who were helping fuel your addiction. It was tough but very much needed. You will need to make choices regarding who to hang out with at work and how to maintain professionalism in your workplace, too.

Everyone needs balance in his or her life. You need to focus on your job duties and make wise choices with the people you hang out with at work. If there are others that have addiction issues at the workplace, you should steer clear of these people and really only communicate with them for work related issues, duties, supervision, etc.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t build healthy relationships with others at work. You may find other employees in your workplace who are also in recovery. If there is someone else in the workplace in recovery, you may want to touch base with them, as they would understand what you are going through and trying to accomplish.

Preparing for Your Return to Work

One of the very first things you should do is arrange to speak to your company’s employee assistance professional (EAP) if available, your counsellor or therapist, and the addiction rehab centre where you went for treatment to help you prepare your return to the workplace. In “An Employer’s Guide to Workplace Substance Abuse”, published by the National Business Group on Health, it states that employers have an important role in combating stigma in the workplace and helping employees understand that they can seek treatment without jeopardizing their careers. It also reminds employers that although they may not know which members on their team are in recovery, they must understand that there’s a balance between wanting to help and respecting an employee’s request for privacy.

You should work on a plan which may include graduated return to work. This could mean three days a week, increasing to four days, and eventually, full hours. You may have to switch your shifts. For example, it may be better to not work night or evening shifts. Your company may also have their own ideas of your return to work.
Usually, they are accommodating as they want to get you safely back to work in a way that is conducive to your recovery.

Communication with your HR or Occupational Health and Safety department will help you stay safe while transitioning back to the workplace. For example, you could have a conference call or face to face meeting with your HR representative or company nurse to discuss your return to work and any issues or requirements you need in order for you to return safely.

Explaining Your Absence

Your co-workers might be surprised to see you back at the office and will be unsure of where you’ve been. They might directly ask you why you were away. There are smart ways to handle these situations, including holding your head high, return with confidence, and tell only one story if people ask where have you been. Keep it consistent. An example would be to say you were off for health reasons and are better now.

There may be rumours. Remember they are only rumours and let them go. You are probably not the only person in the company who has had, or has, an addiction problem.

Five Tips on How to Handle Workplace Functions

Professionals will advise that in early recovery, it’s wise not to attend any functions where alcohol will be served. As your recovery gets stronger, you may be able to attend some functions; you are the best judge of your health and where you are in your recovery. You must do what feels right in order to stay sober.

If your employer or company nurse is aware of your situation, go and talk to them and explain how it can trigger you to go to events where alcohol is served. Politely request to be excused from attending the event.

Here are some helpful suggestions to safely navigate events:

  • Take a “buddy” with you
  • Attend the dinner, and leave before the dance and party begins
  • Be in touch with your sponsor or counsellor a few times throughout the event
  • Leave early, take breaks, go outside, and stay grounded
  • If you have to stay in a hotel for work purposes, ask that the Mini Bar be locked or emptied before you get there

It Gets Easier!

It may seem difficult at the beginning, with all the adjustments you are making to work through your recovery, but these are the types of decisions that must be made to keep you safe and on the right path. It is also recommended to not make any major decisions for the first year of your recovery, e.g. quitting your job or selling your house and relocating, unless for legitimate reasons

Remember, you are entitled to your anonymity but you must own and care for your own recovery. When you’ve been sober for a few months, you will start to gain clarity about your past and the best way to navigate your new life without the use of mood altering substances.

Put your old behaviours behind you and show by example the new you!