Going to Outpatient Rehab While Keeping Your Job

Employment and Outpatient rehab

By Ben Kaneaiakala, Founder, Phoenix Rising Behavioral

Believe it or not, over 14 million working Americans have a substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This represents about 1 out of every 8 workers is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. Too many of these folks never make it into treatment, simply because they fear losing their livelihood. Fear of the stigma around addiction, and possibly losing one’s job, remains a formidable barrier to getting help. 

In addition to worrying about their reputation being damaged or being fired, another obstacle to getting help is the reality that leaving one’s job for a month or two to go to rehab is simply not possible. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed, so there is no way to stop collecting a paycheck just to go get addiction treatment.

Outpatient rehab programs offer a flexible alternative to inpatient or residential addiction programs

Oh, but indeed there is a way to continue to work while receiving treatment. Outpatient rehab programs provide a realistic alternative to residential treatment, allowing the individual to remain on the job while attending rehab programming in the evenings. Others may ask to reduce their work hours for a month or so to open up more availability for treatment during daytime hours. With an outpatient program, those who need professional help to overcome an addiction can get it, while remaining engaged on the job.

About Outpatient Rehab Programs

The beauty of outpatient recovery programs is the variance between levels of care, allowing the individual to match their own recovery needs with the appropriate intensity. Generally, outpatient programs come in three levels of intensity, each having unique requirements as well as services offered. These types of outpatient rehab include:

  • Basic outpatient treatment. This is the least intensive outpatient rehab, offering evaluation, psychotherapy sessions, and addiction education for individuals with a mild or recent substance use disorder. Basic outpatient therapy is an excellent step-down after completing a more intensive outpatient or residential program.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP). The IOP provides a more robust program that requires several hours of participation each week. Program elements include psychotherapy, addiction education, medication management, and 12-step programming, and detoxification services are referred if appropriate.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP). The PHP offers the highest level of care for an outpatient program, with about 30 hours per week, or more, of programming. The PHP has detox services, psychiatric services, and medical professionals on site to provide a comprehensive recovery program.

All outpatient programs provide flexibility for living arrangements. The individual can remain at home outside of treatment hours and working, or they may opt to access sober living housing if a supportive home environment is not available.

What to Expect in Outpatient Addiction Treatment

Selecting the outpatient program that is best suited for one’s needs will depend upon various factors. These might include financial resources, services needed, the treatment schedule itself (some offer evening therapy and classes), and the philosophy that underlies the program. Some outpatient programs offer 12-step programming, and others are non 12-step rehabs. Some outpatient programs offer life skills classes, adjunctive therapies, and holistic activities. Selecting a rehab that best aligns with the individual’s needs is essential.

Outpatient program elements may include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Addiction education
  • Medication management
  • Life skills classes
  • Relapse prevention planning and recovery skills classes
  • Adjunctive services, such as EMDR and neurofeedback
  • Holistic activities, such as mindfulness training or yoga classes

Detox services and sober living housing referrals are often available through the outpatient rehab.

Your Job is Protected

Worries about how one will be judged if it becomes discovered that he or she is enrolled in an addiction treatment program are usually unnecessary. Oftentimes it is not really a secret that someone is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, as signs of trouble may have already been noticed at work. Individuals who are in active addiction may be missing more work than usual, have difficulty completing assignments or projects, or may experience reduced productivity. Addiction is very hard on the mind and the body, and the changes in a person are likely to be noticed by coworkers.

Regardless, there are legal protections in place to ensure that an employee is not fired because they are receiving treatment for a substance use disorder. If the employee does confide in their boss about the need to go to rehab, maybe requesting a temporary reduced work schedule, he or she should not worry about discrimination or repercussions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) puts in place protections that will prevent an employee from losing their job due to addiction treatment, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows qualified employees 12 weeks of medical leave for a treatment-related absence.

When a Residential Program is Needed

Not every individual is suited for an outpatient rehabilitation program. A residential program better serves those with a long history of heavy drug or alcohol abuse. The residential program requires that the individual reside at the treatment center for an extended period of time. These inpatient programs provide a more intensive treatment schedule, highly structured days, and 24-hour support and supervision. Some inpatient programs have special accommodations, even office equipment, that allows clients to continue to engage in work-related activities while in treatment.

If someone is in need of the more intensive level of care provided by a residential program, the FMLA should be accessed to secure the medical leave provided by law. Again, the ADA protects the individual’s right to have their job waiting for them when they return. However, if the employee had been reprimanded prior to going to rehab due to issues related to the addiction, and the employer has the right to require certain stipulations are met.  These are outlined in the Return to Work Agreement (RTWA), listing the requirements that must be met after completing treatment. 

Continuing Care Following Rehab

After rehab is successfully completed, it is essential the individual make the effort to reinforce their recovery by seeking continuing care services. These would include basic outpatient therapy on a weekly basis, or more if needed, participating in a recovery community, and possibly staying in sober living for a few months in early recovery. 

It is absolutely possible to be able to continue working while receiving outpatient rehabilitation services. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance addiction be assured that, by law, your job is protected. Do not hesitate to get the life-saving treatment your deserve.

About the Author

Benjamin Kaneaiakala has been working in the alcohol and drug addiction industry for over 28 years. He has been mentored to learn and work most positions in the industry. Grateful for the guidance throughout his career, Benjamin has opened his own drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in California. Phoenix Rising Behavioral Health Care Services provides substance abuse treatment services to men and women suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, and dual diagnosis.  Benjamin believes the good is the enemy of the better, and looks to help those struggling rise from their past to a new and brighter future.

5 thoughts on “Going to Outpatient Rehab While Keeping Your Job

  1. Nearly 15 years ago I approached my Occupational Health department. I remember the beginning of that conversation vividly – “I’m having a real problem with my drinking” I said. “Tell me about it” And I actually was nearly truthful for once. She offered three options going forward. I looked at her – “Which would you recommend for me?” She said the in-house intensive rehab which started at 4 to 6 weeks in a treatment facility. I just said yes luckily. I did about 6 weeks. My job was kept open for me. I was allowed a phased return to work with lower responsibilities. I went back the the facility for 1 day a week and 1 evening a week for about 6 months afterwards too.

    I was very lucky to have a supportive employer. An American company although I was based in one of the UK offices. I continued to work for them for another 6 years until the slow wind down of the facility caught up with me and I was made redundant. However when the following year they announced the whole place was to shut I went back as a consultant helping with aspects of the close down too. Their foresight got them a lot of payback if you look at it that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have been sober for 14 months but as a requirement of some trouble I got into prior to my sobriety, I was required to go to an intensive outpatient treatment. My specific program is 2 times a week, hour and a half sessions, so not too bad. My piece of advice when it comes to discussing outpatient treatment with your employer is to be honest. You don’t have to dive deep into details. I had to change my work hours and I explained the situation and she was extremely accommodating. I know this isn’t always the case and I know it can feel vulnerable but I always believe speaking the truth and being open about it can surprisingly open people up to the ideas of it without as much judgement.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Good point. However, the trouble is a problem of access. Countless people do not have the financial or health insurance means to get help. Mental health, addiction, and healthcare treatment programs are so broken where I live.

    Liked by 1 person

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