How to Return to Work After Treatment for Addiction

A man in a suit going to work.

How to Return to Work After Treatment for Addiction

Returning to work after any time off is difficult, but returning to work after treatment for addiction is an entirely different challenge. Your recovery is still a work in process, and you are likely still emotionally raw. You are still learning how to cope with stressors without using substances in addition to managing triggers and cravings without relapsing. This is a lot of additional pressure on top of the stress of returning to work, so you will want to plan and prepare as much as possible to help make the transition successful.

Preparing Mentally and Emotionally to Return to Work

Being mentally and emotionally prepared to return to work is crucial to your recovery. Mentally, you need to be prepared to cope with the rigors of your job and the stressors of the workplace, as well as continue to manage your recovery. This requires an extra amount of mental strength after what is typically a very mentally draining process of transitioning from addiction to sobriety.

Emotionally, you may be fragile and still learning to cope with triggers, set boundaries, and protect your emotional wellness. Now, you face the emotional roller coaster of working with others and all of the various dynamics that coworkers bring to the table.

Perhaps the most obvious emotional factor is facing the stigma of returning to work after treatment for addiction. As much as you try to anticipate how this will go, how others will respond and react to you and your circumstances are out of your control. Facing potential stigma in the workplace takes tremendous courage.

Making Plans With Coping Mechanisms

Going back to work does not mean you will not have cravings or triggers. In fact, the stress of a job may increase your cravings, and dealing with other people may trigger you to want to use substances again. This is where relapse prevention planning is so valuable.

Which relapse prevention techniques work best for you? Which ones will you be able to use at work? Will you be able to stop and take a break if you have a craving? Is there a place to get out and walk around outside if you need that throughout your workday? Is there flexibility in scheduling in case you are having a really bad craving and need to leave early? Try to anticipate what your needs will be and make plans to be able to meet those needs in the workplace.

Putting Safety Nets in Place for Your Wellness

As you prepare to return to work, be sure to put wellness safety nets in place. Continue attending your support group meetings, meeting with your therapist, and maintaining a close relationship with your sponsor. Additionally, you may find a coworker or someone who works nearby who is also in recovery and who can be a support to you while at work. Wherever possible, negotiate options such as the ability to work from home or have flexible hours if needed. You should consider asking for whatever accommodations are reasonable and will help you maintain your wellness.

Planning Effective Ways to Communicate Your Needs

Returning to work can be intimidating. Coming out of addiction, you may still be struggling with feelings of low self-worth, which may prevent you from communicating your needs to your supervisor and human resources. Remember that you have the opportunity not only to demonstrate to yourself and others that you are a valuable employee but also to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery.

You can communicate with your employer and help to create a recovery-supportive workplace. This will not only help you as you return to work but will also help others now and in the future. You can help educate others about recovery while creating a more supportive environment for yourself.

Understanding the Importance of Recovery First

The most important factor to consider when returning to work after treatment is that, above all else, your recovery comes first. No matter how bad you need the money, no job is worth sacrificing your recovery. Falling back into addiction can cost you more money in the long run. You will not be a valuable asset as an employee if you relapse, either.

This is your chance to make the permanent changes that will help you maintain your recovery for the rest of your life. Your job and your career can wait, if necessary. Be certain before you return to work that you are mentally and emotionally prepared to manage your recovery first and the additional stressors of the work environment on top of that. If you prepare and plan well, you can make a successful return to work and maintain your recovery.