At Work

3 Essential Tips for Returning to Work After Rehab

All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn, U.S. Professor Emeritus of Medicine

Ever had an exceptionally awkward moment at work? Like billboard-worthy awkward?

You know the type of thing… accidentally calling your boss a “stupid numbskull,” even though you could swear you were only thinking about it?

Or knocking a cup of latte over the high-powered, back-up server, containing the company’s master client list, all their transactions, and your company’s detailed accounts for this last financial year, all ready for filing? Yep, that type of thing.

Well, brace yourself, here comes another one

The “returning to work after rehab” type of awkward moment. A time for negotiating a sea of probing, questioning looks from fellow workers, trying to work out if your eyes are a tad bloodshot this morning.

Or those heavier-than-a-whale awkward silences, as your colleagues try to find the words to simply say, “Welcome back. So, how are you doing?” Yes, a steady succession of those awkward moments, and some, continuing for most of your first day back.

Returning to work after you have spent time in an addiction rehab facility can be a stressful, difficult time for you.

Especially if your previous substance-affected misdemeanors in the workplace, followed by your unexplained absence, are common knowledge. However, it is important to remember it does get better, and relatively quickly, too.

And, as with all good business practices, it’s all about the preparation. As long as you are fully prepared for your first day back, your return to work will be a successful one.

Minimal awkward moments, successfully negotiated, good working relationships slowly re-established, and, before you know it, no more odd looks or heavy silences. Situation normal.

And, if your luck is really with you, Charlie, the popular (but a little clumsy) new internal messenger, will have accidentally spilled his super-sized fizzy cola down the back of the aforementioned computer server before your first week back is out.

A week soon to be followed by the aforementioned and rather bemused Charlie, no doubt.

Seriously (now, honestly), your prior preparation is vital to successfully negotiate these early days back in the workplace.

Regardless of whether it’s an office, a factory floor or a ward on a specialized hospital unit. Here are our “3 Essential Tips for Returning to Work After Rehab” to help you do exactly that. Read on

1. You’re Not Alone

Stating the obvious here, but you are not the first person ever to return to work after addiction treatment, and you will certainly not be the last. Here are a few interesting statistics about the U.S. workforce and substance abuse:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 1 in 13 working adults has an alcohol use disorder
  • The following professions have higher than average rates of substance abuse:
    • Nursing and midwifery
    • Hospitality
    • Agriculture
    • Armed forces
    • Emergency workers
  • Shift working is been heavily associated with binge drinking
  • For employers, providing access to treatment can produce substantial savings, exceeding costs by a ratio of 12 to 1
  • Workers with substance use disorders who receive treatment and recover have 36% lower rates of absenteeism, and increased work turnover of 13% when compared with a worker with an active substance use disorder

Therefore, a significant number of your co-workers have already been there. While you may feel awkward on your return to work, please understand that you will have many allies, vocal or silent, already in your workplace.

And many more others will have had other types of personal challenges also, ones that may well have involved enforced absences or a reworking of their scheduled hours. You really are not alone. Knowing this, now your preparation can truly really begin…

2. Detailed Preparation

Here is the most important advice you’ll find in this article, but read to the end because the good advice doesn’t finish here.

There are a number of key elements that you need to address fully in this detailed preparation for your return to work, and you’ll need to work through this one by one. These key elements are:

  • What You Will Say to Colleagues: You need to decide how you’re going to respond to colleagues who ask questions such as “Where have you been?” or “Why haven’t you been here?” How you reply, and this is important, is up to you.

    What you say, whether it’s the truth, a non-committal comment, or even a lie is completely your choice. The closer you can keep to the truth, the easier it will be to keep your story straight.

    The best way forward is to discuss this with both your counselor (or trusted friends) and your HR manager, if that is an option.
  • What You Will Need to Change: Clearly, if your prior substance abuse has led to issues in the workplace, or that you simply needed to take leave to address the problem, you will need to make healthy changes as to how you conduct yourself at work.

    For some workers in your situation, the workplace can actually be a trigger for past addictive behavior, eg. socializing with colleagues, business lunches, etc. If that’s the case with you, these areas need to be addressed, with significant changes put in place.
  • What You Need to Know About Your Employment Rights: This is an undeniably important one. While obviously you must be fit to return to work, you also have the right to ask for certain assistance from your employer.

    Employers are required to comply with certain limitations your medical team deems necessary for recovery, eg. time off for medical appointments, limited working hours on your return, etc. Your most important rights:
    • Under the terms of Family & Medical Leave (from the U.S. Dept. of Labor), you are entitled to “12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year” for family and medical reasons.

3. Continuing Care & Your Support Network

It is imperative that, while returning to work (possibly, a significant relapse trigger for you), you continue whatever continuing care, directed by your health provider and medical team, has been advised.

This may be an Outpatient Program at a drug or alcohol rehab in Seattle, Dallas, or wherever, or designated weekly appointments with an addiction counselor.

Furthermore, it is equally imperative that you let your support network (addiction counselor, close family, and friends, your sponsor, etc.) that returning to work is what you are doing, as you may need to seek help from them throughout the first few months of your work resumption.

Lastly, there may be company resources available to you that you can also draw on.

In summary, your “3 Essential Tips”:

  • You are not alone
  • Detailed preparation, and
  • Continuing care and your support network

Are you in a position to offer advice here? If so, please drop a comment below. Whatever your situation, stay well, work hard, and good luck to you.