If you are a recovering drug or alcohol addict, you are probably dreading joining the job hunt and worried about how your addiction will hold back your career. Fortunately, there are resources out there to help addicts in recovery approach the job hunt while continuing to prioritize their sobriety.
This article will explain why getting a job is so important for addicts in recovery, describe some top job-seeking tips after rehab, and explain how you are protected if you are unfortunate enough to relapse while employed.
Part 1: Why finding a job after rehab is so important
If you are an addict in recovery, you may be worried about the prospect of returning to the stressful world of work, which can be triggering for some. However, finding work is an important step to putting your life back together and research has consistently found that finding a job after rehab helps addicts in recovery stay sober.
Writing in The Washington Post, New Hampshire’s drug czar, David Mara explains that:
“One of the most important things that people in recovery talk about is how it feels, with their self-worth and identity, getting employed again”.
Finding a job can...
- ... give your life more meaning and purpose.
- ... help you break bad habits and routines.
- ... develop confidence and raise self-esteem.
- ... provide income.
- ... provide health insurance coverage.
- ... grow your support network and help you develop positive new relationships.
Despite these obvious advantages, a 2017 study by the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital found that 9.2% of addicts in recovery are involuntarily unemployed. This is an extremely high figure when you consider the national unemployment rate at the time was almost two-thirds lower at 3.7%, a certain indication of the persistent stigma that prevents people in recovery from finding employment.
Part 2: 13 Tips for job-seeking as an addict in recovery
To give you the best chance of overcoming this stigma and landing a great job after rehab, we offer this list of top tips.
1. Understand your rights
If you are an addict in recovery it is important that you know your rights and how to recognize unfair and illegal treatment from employers.
Alcoholics in recovery are generally considered as people with disabilities and are therefore covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. However, drug addicts are only protected under the ADA if they have not been using drugs for a sufficient amount of time.
What is considered a sufficient amount of time is decided on a case-by-case basis and is described in the ADA as:
“Illegal use occurred recently enough to justify a reasonable belief that a person’s drug use is a real and ongoing problem.”
The act protects job seekers and employees who once struggled with addiction but are now clean. It states that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against addicts in recovery who have sought treatment. In addition, it explains that employers cannot fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote anyone due to a history of substance abuse, or because they are enrolled in a drug or alcohol rehab program.
The ADA can also make accommodations for addicts in recovery, like modifying work schedules to make time for them to attend addiction support meetings.
2. You don’t necessarily have to answer all interview questions
If you are covered by the ADA, then you are protected from certain interview questions. Prospective employers may inquire about your current alcohol or illegal drug use, but it is illegal for them to ask if you are a former drug addict or if you have ever gone to rehab.
Once the employer has issued you a conditional offer, they may ask any question they want about your history or present use of drugs or alcohol, but only if they ask this to every employee rather than singling you out. It is also illegal for the employer to use your answer as a reason to exclude you from employment.
3. Consider recovery-centered jobs work
You may feel that your history of substance abuse will hold you back in your professional life. However, there are jobs out there where a history of addiction can actually be beneficial.
Recovery-related roles are the perfect fit for recovering addicts and there are plenty of jobs to choose from. If you have the right character and enough determination you could find yourself working as a:
- Recovery coach
- Addiction counselor
- Peer specialist
- Social worker
- Recovery speaker/writer/social influencer
- Working for a recovery charity organization.
Recovery-related work is the perfect opportunity for an addict in recovery to give back to the community that helped them survive their addiction. The work can be hard, but is rewarding and means that you will surround yourself with a supportive network of professionals who take recovery seriously and will help you through it, just as you help others do the same.
Of course, this type of work is not without risks, and addicts in recovery are advised to always put their sobriety first. If you feel that you are not ready to be potentially put into environments where drugs and alcohol may be present, then only consider less hands-on recovery-centered work.
4. Prioritize your wellbeing
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘your addiction is outside doing pushups waiting for you to fail’?
After rehab, most people consider themselves an addict in recovery rather than a recovered ex-addict. The point is that the disease of addiction is unlikely ever to disappear completely and it usually requires ongoing, consistent work and support to keep at bay. Whatever you need to do to stay sober, whether that is attending daily group meetings or praying and meditating every morning, find a schedule that fits with your recovery schedule.
Keep in mind that nothing is more important than your recovery, and if you fail in your recovery you are highly likely to fail at work and in your personal life too.
5. Look for part-time and flexible work
If you are worried about how your return to the world of work could trigger your addiction, then try looking for part-time work or work with flexible hours. As an addict in recovery, you need to take your recovery program seriously, and this will usually mean attending regular meetings that can be hard to fit in if you have a job with strict, full-time working hours. In addition, starting to work slowly will give you room to breathe and stop you from getting overwhelmed and falling back into bad habits to cope with stress.
6. Use assistant programs
There are plenty of state and government-funded assistance programs for those seeking work after rehab. It is worth doing your research or asking for details of relevant organizations from contacts in your recovery program, contacting the Department of Labor, or local social services organizations.
You can expect to find organizations that offer assistance with the following:
- Help finding work after rehab
- Job placements with local organizations
- Covering the cost of transport to and from job interviews
- Training and education programs to help addicts in recovery learn new skills to improve their chances of finding work.
7. Use your support network
If you have access to a supportive personal network, then don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
As an addict in recovery, you should understand how important getting the right support can be and remember that everyone has to ask for help at some stage. So, if you know some people who would be able to offer you job-seeking advice, recommend you for a job, or introduce you to a potential employer, then consider reaching out to them for help.
It may take a while to earn trust while in recovery, but you have to start somewhere, and showing you are ready and committed to getting back to work is an important step.
Some examples of people in your network who may be able to offer you job-seeking help and advice include:
- Friend and relatives
- Ex-colleagues and business contacts
- Addiction sponsors
- Doctors, counselors, and therapists
8. Use online resources
The easiest place to start looking for work is online. There are plenty of job boards out there and job-seeking resource sites like ours. Here are a few of our other articles that you should find useful:
- 18 Resume and job seeking tips for ex-offenders
- 3 Steps to securing a job after a career break
For job boards, two of the most popular general job boards are Monster and Indeed. But, it is also worth looking at local job sites and agencies too. Try Googling your local papers and see if they also operate job sites.
There are also more specific organizations that cater to job-seeking addicts in recovery. America in Recovery is one such organization that operates various job sites for recovering addicts, as well as ex-offenders and older workers. Using websites like these will mean you don’t have to worry about your history of addiction spoiling your chances of landing a job.
If your job hunt is taking too long, then it can be a good idea to try volunteering for a cause that piques your interest. Although you won’t be earning money, volunteering can provide impressive work experience and will keep you busy and feeling useful.
Ideally, you would find a volunteer role that will help you develop skills for a career in an area that you find interesting. Many recovering addicts contribute to addiction-focused organizations as the preferred form of volunteering.
10. Don’t dwell on your addiction in interviews
When you get invited to an interview, it is important to remember your rights. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulates interview questions and restricts employers from legally asking if you use legal drugs like alcohol, prescription medication, and in some states marijuana.
However, employers can still ask about illegal drugs and will be able to see your criminal record. If you are asked about your past drug offenses, the best approach is to keep your explanations brief and focus on how you have changed and why the job is right for you.
11. How to answer questions about a gap on your resume
If you had to take a considerable amount of time off due to your addiction, and it raises questions during your interview, then you can answer honestly without revealing the complete truth. We recommend an answer like:
'I was struggling with a medical condition that required my full attention but I have recovered now and am ready to return to work.’
Keep in mind that you are not legally obliged to name the medical condition due to the protection of the EEOC.
12. Be prepared to earn trust
If your employer is aware that you are an addict in recovery, then you have to be prepared to work hard to win their trust. This can mean ensuring you are focused, on time, and on your best behavior at all times. You should also be prepared to offer to take an impromptu drug test and demonstrate you are serious about your recovery. It can take time to develop trust but stick with it and you can do it.
13. Keep your head up
It can be easy to get depressed after a few rejections, but everyone has to sit a few interviews before they find a job that is right for them. Stay optimistic and discuss your problems with your support network for advice and reassurance.
As a recovering addict, you should expect to have fallen behind in your career. Although this is demotivating, try to think of it as a temporary setback. Focus on staying sober and remember that the more time you have sober the more chance you have of progressing in your career and achieving your personal goals.
Part 3: What happens to your job if you relapse
There are always going to be times when you try and fail, but if you relapse after finding a job do you remain employed?
Well, fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives employees a job-protected leave of absence should they need to go to inpatient rehab. Some state laws can also protect your job while you get treated for your drug or alcohol addiction, so it is worth looking into these.
The rules differ depending on where you are and your employer, so check online and in your employee manual to see if your employer offers the leave.
Find treatment options that also protect your job
Some treatment organizations will also help you keep your job when you are admitted after a relapse. This is not available in every facility but is worth looking into if you are concerned about job security.
What happens if you get into legal trouble due to a relapse?
If you feel you have reached the point in your recovery when you are ready to rejoin the world of work, then you probably don’t want to consider the prospect of relapsing. However, it is important to consider exactly what will happen if things go wrong and you fail to stay sober.
Depending on your job, and the crime you are guilty of, you may be required to tell your employer. For example, if you are employed as a teacher and receive a DUI, then by law you have to report the offense to your school’s superintendent within 10 days. Make sure you are fully aware of what will happen with your work and what you need to do if you get into trouble due to your addiction.
We have already mentioned the transformative nature finding stable employment can bring for recovering addicts. In many ways, it is the first step to rebuilding a normal life and proving to everyone that you can be trusted.
Although a history of addiction and especially any associated criminal convictions can certainly hold you back, it does not mean it is impossible to get a job. You may find that you do not have to mention your addiction at all or perhaps you will find an employer who understands that overcoming addiction can make you the ideal candidate for their purpose.
Whatever might hold you back, everything changes with time. The longer you stay sober, working hard, and committed to your job, the more chance you have of reaching a place in your career that makes you proud.
The most important advice mentioned in this article, when it comes to job-seeking as an addict in recovery, is to always put your sobriety first, don’t hesitate to reach out to those in your support network for help when you need it, understand that you cannot be discriminated against for your past addiction, and manage your expectations to keep yourself motivated.
By carefully considering the tips and advice above, approaching the job hunt in a positive, realistic light, and not expecting to land your dream job straight away, you can keep steadily progressing towards your career and life goals.
As a professional recruiter, I have over 10 years of experience helping candidates find work with businesses that match their skills, personalities and goals. Here on Resume Supply, I share some of the key things I have learned over my career to help job seekers with resumes, applications and interviews.