People with substance use disorders face many different challenges after treatment. One of the things they struggle with the most is figuring out a way to transition back to work post-treatment. Regardless of the profession, returning to the workforce carries unique concerns for those in the post-treatment phase of recovery. Whether they are going through outpatient or inpatient treatment, they are often in need of unconditional love and support to keep them on the path of recovery. They need to work to support themselves and their families, create and achieve goals, and build self-confidence. There are some challenges to be aware of when it comes to returning to the workforce after treatment.
Interacting With Coworkers
Coming back to work and seeing coworkers for the first time often creates anxiety for someone who has recently completed treatment. They may worry about how they will be perceived as they return to work and about what to say when asked specific questions. They may not know what information is best to share or who is safe to share it with. Each individual must decide, using specific workplace knowledge and factors, if the nature of their absence should be shared with anyone. It is an unfortunate truth that substance use disorders may still carry a stigma for some, so it’s often found best to share only with those necessary in the workplace. Ultimately, the goal is to have the workplace feel free from stress when possible. After a prolonged absence, the choice may be to share a simple, standard statement with anyone who asks such as, “I took a break to get my health in order.” This can smooth the transition back into daily interactions simply and easily. Focus on the opportunities of a fresh start in a familiar environment, and make sure you remain feeling safe and comfortable.
Coping with job stress is part of life in recovery. If job-related stress contributes to substance use disorder, it takes special precautions to manage relapse triggers. At first, it might be helpful to work reduced hours to continue attending more therapy and recovery groups. Make sure there is a margin for rest and support upfront, as exhaustion can make managing life tasks and work more difficult. Effectively manage your workplace stressors by trying these tips:
- Find somewhere to meditate or rest during the workday for a few moments (visit a park for a walk, go around the block, do some window shopping).
- Speak to HR and make sure they are aware of the situation.
- Speak to supervisors or managers to be sure they understand your needs.
- Focus on a healthy experience in sobriety first above job performance—set yourself up for success by not overworking right out the gate.
- Listen to your body and your emotions, what are they telling you?
People can make the mistake of overwhelming themselves during their transition back into the workplace. They want to prove they are back and better for their time away. The challenge is, in recovery, the brain and body need rest and support. Don’t push too hard right away and risk a relapse by not listening to the mind and body when they need a break.
Some employers set conditions and parameters for employees when they return from treatment. There may be nurses and doctors who are returning to work post-treatment who need to fulfill requirements for their licenses. In these cases, work agreements are stringent on what they are allowed to do and not do while on probation. Work agreements generally cover:
- Supervision requirements and check-ins.
- Consequences of breach of contract.
- Disciplinary action.
- Substance use treatment issues.
Going back to work doesn’t have to be stressful, but it can be taxing to deal with all the ins and outs at first. Be sure to set yourself up for success by planning ahead and knowing what to expect when you return.
Take a Breath
Post-treatment, you may be returning to a workplace that feels different because of the changes in you. Perhaps someone has taken over your work duties in your absence, and there is an expectation they will handle certain things from now on. Maybe you will return to those duties in full. Take a breath and look at the long view. In recovery, it takes time to adjust to the new normal, and this includes the new normal at work. Work-life balance is more conducive to healing, and you’ll be happier and healthier than ever by focusing on one day at a time. Don’t overthink the process, be flexible, and work on incorporating little things over time that add up to what you need to feel successful. Remember, chances are you aren’t the first coworker to return to the job post-treatment. Take advantage of the programs and benefits your employer has available to employees in recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.