Substance Abuse in the Workplace

What you need to know about addiction and your place of employment

Seeking help for your drug addiction can be hard for anyone. However, if you are a professional, seeking help for drug addiction can be frightening and confusing. You need help for your addiction, but you don’t want to lose your job in the process. What will your employers think if they hear about your addiction? How will you be able to get help and keep your job at the same time?


Many people who have substance abuse problems are employed, and it is common for them to avoid treatment because they fear it might hurt their careers. However, avoiding treatment can do more damage long-term than getting treatment. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to help you keep your job during and after treatment.


Know the Law


Under the American with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability, including addicts. Employers are allowed to keep their workplace drug and alcohol-free, but they are not allowed to discriminate against recovering addicts and alcoholics. This means that it is illegal for your employer to fire you or pass you up for a promotion just because you are experiencing substance abuse. If you believe that you have been a victim of discrimination, you can file a report.

americans with disability act
Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks leave

Furthermore, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected medical leave. Because substance abuse is a medical disorder, you can take this leave to get treatment. This makes getting treated extremely accessible. You can go get help for your disorder and come back to work 12 weeks later.


Don’t Focus on the Stigma


While there is some stigma attached to substance abuse, it is usually not nearly as dense as many people think. With the rise of substance abuse statistics, it is likely that nearly everyone knows someone who has experienced substance abuse disorder. This makes actual, enacted stigma rarer than you might think. When you know someone who has experienced substance abuse firsthand, you usually have somewhat of an educated opinion. Those who get treatment for substance abuse are more likely to keep their jobs than those who do not. Whether you’ll experience stigma for getting help or not, it is always a better decision to get treatment than to avoid it.


Understand the Risks


Studies have shown that workplace stress can trigger a relapse. Stress and mood have long been tied to relapse. After all, a recovering addict is more likely to turn to drugs if they are experiencing a poor mood. According to the Huffington Post, acute stress can lead to drug and alcohol abuse in vulnerable individuals, such as those who are currently in recovery. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for workers to feel obligated to stop by the bar with their co-workers at the end of the day when asked. Staying in the workforce, then, comes with its own risks. It is important to figure out how you plan to deal with these risks before you continue with work. Learning stress-reduction techniques and learning to say “no” are great places to start.


Choose the Right Program for You


Many people are surprised to learn what happens in rehab

Even with all the coverage given to you under the law, not all programs are going to work under all situations. For example, if you only have 12 weeks you can miss of work, you obviously aren’t going to be able to miss longer.

You should consider your life situation when choosing a drug addiction program. However, remember that getting treatment is extremely important. Even if you don’t feel like you have the time, it is important to make time.


It is crucial to get treatment for your substance abuse, even if you are worried about backlash from your employer. Recovering addicts are protected under the law and given time to get treatment. Many employers are more understanding than you might think.

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