Maintaining Your Career in Addiction Recovery

By Dominic Nicosia – October 3, 2021

Addiction impacts every aspect of life, and one of the first of these lifestyle casualties is usually your job and professional stability. When you have to be somewhere five days a week and be mentally present enough to effectively perform your duties, “roll with the punches” and exceed expectations, it’s going to show when you’re distracted or preoccupied with things like withdrawal and personal drama. Over time, these issues compound and turn into absenteeism, lying, making excuses and other types of malignant behavior. In other words, you go from being “not all there” to not being there at all. 

 Learn how to maintain your career in active recovery and why there’s no shame in asking for help and being open about your struggles. 

Why Maintaining a Career in Recovery Can Be Stressful  

Let’s start with the problem. While treatment and recovery are necessary to help you take control of your career, it can be difficult to effectively manage the pressures and expectations of recovery while still trying to get ahead at work … or even keep your head above water at first. While each person’s professional transition is different, some of the common factors that can get in the way include: 

The Problem: FOMO

Fear of missing out is a real thing in recovery, and not just in an emotional or social context. If you go away for treatment, or even go to a daily outpatient program, it can be easy to miss out on important company developments that directly and indirectly impact your duties and potential for success. Coming back to work when you’ve missed things can be overwhelming and create a vicious cycle of: “I don’t know what’s happening because I’ve been out for so long” and “I’d better be exceptional because I’ve missed too much already.”

Possible Solutions: If you’re going to be out of work for an extended period, connect with someone in your company to receive a few emails a week on what’s been going on. This will provide the context and information you need to hit the ground running when you come back. If you’re able, you can also continue to work part-time or remotely while in treatment. Talk to your boss about scheduling flexibility and remote arrangements. 

 The Problem: Stigma

It’s bad enough to encounter judgment and prejudice in social and structural situations, but when it seeps into the workplace, it can be downright destabilizing. The National Safety Council and recovery non-profit Shatterproof report that stigma in the workplace toward addiction continues to be pervasive and that employers have a considerable role in reversing this trend. Perhaps it’s feeling like your colleagues don’t respect or trust you; perhaps it’s trying to overcome a vivid and unpleasant image they had of you when you were using, or perhaps it’s something more serious like your past actually getting in the way of your professional advancement. 

Possible Solutions: It can be hard to overcome the biases and prejudices of others. At the end of the day, the only thing you can really control is your own behavior and your reactions to things. You may, however, have professional recourse if you feel as though you’re being discriminated against or prevented from pursuing opportunities because of your past. Talk to your immediate supervisor or human resources department about your concerns as they arise and see what can be done. 

The Problem: Culture

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that over 70 percent of those who struggle with substance use disorder are in the workforce. The reality is that drug and alcohol abuse is everywhere, and it’s present across all industries, from foodservice to medicine to legal services to labor and construction. It can be hard to encounter substance use among your colleagues or, at the very least, hear conversations that can trigger a relapse. 

Possible Solutions: Be your own advocate. Let your colleagues know that you’re trying to stay clean and establish clear boundaries for conduct and dialogue. If you must, excuse yourself from company outings where you know there will be drinking and drug use. Lean on members of your support system to let them know what you’re going through and try to solicit insights from them. 

The Day-to-Day

No matter how long you’ve been in recovery, there are any number of things that can cause your routine to impact your career and vice versa. Some everyday tips for staying successful include: 

Stay Organized – Creating and sticking to a schedule gives you a sense of control that can be helpful against anxiety and depression that can lead to self-medication. 

Admit It – Know when you’re having a bad day and give yourself permission to not “force it” at work when you feel like you can’t be fully invested.

Lean on Your Resources – On the harder days, like those described above, try to attend a meeting after work or during your lunch hour. You can also try to schedule an emergency telehealth appointment with your therapist or simply call a supportive friend or loved one.

Put Yourself First – You’re more than a job, you’re more than a series of obligations, and, yes, you’re more than your recovery. Give yourself permission to develop new hobbies, explore existing passions and live like a whole person. This will give you something to focus on and create everyday and long-term things to look forward to that make both your professional work and your recovery work worth it. 

Take care of your body, eat right and get plenty of sleep and exercise, continue to educate yourself in your field, and keep your eye on the prize. You should also savor the rewards of your professional success and pat yourself on the back when they arise. 

How Does Employee Recovery Help the Workplace?

The benefits of recovery create a ripple effect throughout their organizations. Recovery Unplugged recently conducted our own research study on the positive impact that occurs when employees are allowed to go to treatment. Of those surveyed: 

  • Over 94 percent said their recovery helped their employment.
  • Over 60 percent said their recovery has helped them maintain their cost of living
  • Over 60 percent said that recovery allowed them to continue their education to improve their employment prospects.
  • Nearly 65 percent said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs in recovery.
  • Nearly 82 percent said they were currently employed after treatment.
  • Over 26 percent of respondents said they missed five or more days per month of work during active addiction.
  • Nearly 50 percent said their addiction put their colleagues in danger on the job. 
  • Nearly 75 percent said they were reprimanded at work because of their substance use.

The study also found that only a little more than 30 percent of employers recommended substance use treatment when they learned there was a problem. Recovery Unplugged works with organizations in a wide range of industries to help their employees and their families get the help they need for substance use through our employee assistance program (EAP). 

Take things one day at a time in your recovery and give yourself the room to learn, grow, mess up, and be challenged at work. These everyday victories will help you balance your career and your recovery. 

If you’re an employer whose organization has been impacted by substance use, find out what addiction is costing your company and learn the financial benefits of getting help for your affected employees.

About the Author

Dominic Nicosia smiling at the camera.

Dominic Nicosia is a New Jersey-based journalist and content writer covering addiction care and mental health. He currently serves as Senior Content Writer for Recovery Unplugged Treatment Centers, a national addiction treatment organization that offers a full continuum of care and uses music to help people more readily embrace the treatment process.


Related Articles