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returning to work after treatment
July 20, 2020

Overcoming Stigma: Returning to Work After Treatment

Transitioning back into the workplace after addiction treatment can represent a significant hurdle in your recovery journey. It’s likely you are already dealing with a disproportionately heavy burden of shame resulting from your past behavior, and now the idea of going back to work is bringing complex emotions to the forefront of your mind. What steps should you take to prepare yourself for overcoming stigma and returning to work after treatment?

Dealing With the Stigma of Addiction

When people return to their jobs after taking a leave of absence to seek treatment for cancer and other chronic illnesses, their co-workers welcome them back with open arms. However, addiction still has societal stigmas attached to it. Many people stubbornly reject the scientifically proven definition of drug and alcohol addiction as a brain disease, instead preferring to view it as a personal failing or weakness.  

Going back to work will require you to confront the many fears and prejudices people have about substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses. It can be tremendously intimidating to know others are watching you and feel the weight of their judgment. 

The life skills you learned in rehab will come in handy in overcoming stigma. Keep being patient and taking things one day at a time. Eventually, the quality of your work will speak for itself, silencing any critics who may have previously condemned you for being a recovering addict.    

Avoiding Job-Related Triggers

Recovering addicts are vulnerable to relapse triggers – especially in the earliest stages of their sobriety. Stress is one significant relapse trigger, but any people, places or situations that remind you of your active addiction can put a strain on your resolve to stay substance-free. 

If you have a demanding, fast-paced career, it’s likely the pressures of your job contributed to your addiction in the first place. Remember the healthy coping mechanisms you learned in treatment – they’ll serve you well when the inevitable work-related triggers arise. 

Despite the powerful motivation you now have to protect your sobriety and stay on the right path, there will still be temptations along the way, such as a company party, a dinner with important clients or an out-of-town convention. In the past, these occasions might have been excuses for you to overindulge in alcohol or drugs, so make sure you have a plan for how to deal with these situations. Stay in contact with your sober sponsor to help keep you accountable, and if you must travel for work, find a 12-step meeting you can attend while you’re away from home. 

Who to Tell? It’s Your Decision

If you’re returning to the same workplace and colleagues after being away for 35 days or longer, you may feel like a stranger in a once-familiar setting. Unless you chose to tell everyone about your decision to enter rehab before you went on your leave of absence, you’ll likely spend your first week or so back at work fielding questions about where you’ve been. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave without disclosing the reason, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have curious colleagues inquiring about the reasons behind your absence. It’s up to you to decide how little or how much to reveal. You could try to avoid judgment by inventing a cover story ahead of time – such as having to care for a sick parent – but maintaining a lie will require extra effort on your part. 

On the other hand, by being up-front with co-workers about your need to get help for an addiction, you can contribute to overcoming stigma around substance abuse and sharing your truth about the incredible benefits sobriety has brought to your life. Your story might even inspire a colleague to seek addiction help for themselves or a loved one.

Overcoming Stigma After Treatment

Overcoming stigma and returning to work after treatment are only two of the hurdles you’ll face in early recovery. Beach House’s accredited addiction treatment program can help you learn to work through these problems with equanimity. To get confidential, 24/7 assistance from our admissions counselors, contact us today.

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