You took the time to participate in residential or intensive addiction treatment, and you’ve completed your course of therapy—congratulations! Now it’s time to return to your job. You’re equipped with a new set of skills for managing stress and coping with cravings. Probably not much has changed at work while you were in treatment, but there is one big change: you.
Initially, you may feel like a stranger upon your return. Returning to work after addiction treatment may take some adjustment.
What to Say to Co-Workers
Your co-workers will be curious about your absence. Chances are questions will be asked about where you were. If you turn down an invitation for drinks after work, more questions may arise. How do you respond without divulging too much of your private life?
You’re faced with the dilemma of being honest and taking the chance you’ll be judged. Or, you could offer an alternate plausible explanation that you simply went on a trip or were caring for a family member. Both answers are completely acceptable. Recovering in anonymity is your right. If you choose an alternate explanation, be prepared to carry it through.
If you decide to reveal the actual reasons behind your absence, be ready for possible fallout. However, you could also be surprised by co-workers confiding in you that they also visited rehab, or had a loved one who did. Someone could reveal to you that they are struggling to get sober and ask you for advice. You may gain a few comrades. New confidants may make other possible negative effects caused by your openness seem small by comparison.
How to Handle Employers
While disclosure to your employer about rehab carries risks like discrimination, there are also advantages. Your employer may adopt a more supportive and understanding attitude toward you at work after addiction treatment. You might not have to go into great detail about absences from work due to doctor visits or counseling sessions.
Also, you have legal protection regarding disclosure. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows people to take medical leave without the specific diagnosis being disclosed.1 This applies as long as the person has been diagnosed by an appropriate professional. Further protection is provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act for people diagnosed with addiction.2
Re-introducing work after addiction treatment into your life is going to change the balance of how you spend your time. Don’t let other activities or your commitment to recovery fall by the wayside. Go to meetings, talk to your sponsor and attend all your scheduled therapy sessions.
See your primary care physician to ensure ongoing good physical health. Make time to exercise and commit to eating well. Practice the coping skills you’ve learned for stress and anxiety, such as meditation and relaxation techniques, both on and off the job.
You want to excel at your career, but not at the expense of your physical or mental health. A healthy work/life balance is crucial to ongoing recovery. A healthy balance also allows you to be a good employee. Navigating through life will get easier after a few months as you gain clarity about your past experiences and move forward in your newly sober life.