How to Return to Work After Addiction Treatment

March 12th, 2019

Returning to work after addiction treatment can be a frustrating and isolating experience, and the person returning to work after treatment may face unjust criticism and judgment from coworkers, supervisors, and even clients and customers. If you completed substance abuse treatment and intend to return to work, you should have some idea of what to expect and how you can prepare for uncomfortable and difficult situations.

Addiction is a polarizing topic in the United States, and there are many social stigmas associated with substance abuse. Many people do not realize that addiction is not a choice, and most people who develop addictions do so unintentionally or as a side effect of necessary medical treatment. For example, you may have injured yourself at work and required opioid painkillers to manage the resulting pain, and then developed an opioid addiction during recovery.

Do not let others' judgments make you feel inferior, damaged, or anything less than a full person, just because you struggled with substance abuse. These situations sometimes offer the potential for learning experiences. The coworker making rude or ignorant comments about your substance abuse may harbor misconceptions about addiction that you may be able to correct. While these situations are often difficult to navigate, there is usually potential to have beneficial, constructive conversations with those who ridicule you or judge you for your past addiction.

Eventually you may encounter a coworker or someone else who is unwilling to budge on his or her interpretation of your past. This may be bothersome, but it is ultimately not your problem. While you may want to forge new relationships and make the most of your working life following addiction treatment, wasting time and energy on a person who is unable and/or unwilling to see things from your perspective is an unhealthy and pointless use of your time. You may not be able to avoid some people like this, especially those who work with you, but you can eventually figure out a way to maintain a respectful professional relationship and a stable work environment without letting others’ judgments wear on you or erode your self-confidence.

Explore New Social Opportunities and Ways to Relax

Any kind of work entails stress, and everyone develops different techniques and coping mechanisms to deal with different types of stress. While your coworkers may like to finish out a week with a trip to a local bar for happy hour, this may not be a healthy option for you. Again, recovery from substance abuse can be an isolating experience as many social doors will feel closed to you. However, this does not mean you cannot find ways to have fun while avoiding temptation.

The stress of returning to “normal” life after addiction treatment does not have to be an uncomfortable, lonely ordeal. While you are sure to face a fair amount of stress, both acute and ongoing, your new sober lifestyle offers a unique opportunity to explore new ways to have fun, new methods to de-stress, and new places where you could potentially make new friends.

There is also value in service. Depending on the type of work you do, making time to volunteer at a shelter or food bank can be a valuable use of your time that keeps you busy, keeps you focused on living a healthier lifestyle, and opens potentially valuable social opportunities for you.

Learn to Manage Triggers and Cravings

Leaving addiction treatment to return to normal life can be daunting and even terrifying for some people, but it is an undeniably valuable opportunity to start living the life you have always wanted and to cultivate a new lifestyle built on a foundation of sobriety.

Stress from work and the judgments of others can be difficult for some people to manage while others may be unfazed. While different individuals in recovery will react to these situations in different ways, they all ultimately contend with cravings and triggers that tempt them back toward addiction.

Consider how you can use the structure of your work schedule to develop a new routine that encourages healthy living and helps you manage cravings. Completing rehab does not mean you will no longer feel cravings for drugs. Many people who live sober for years after rehab still contend with occasional cravings. Everyone develops unique methods for fighting these urges and doing so gets easier with time.

Remember the Lessons Learned in Rehab

During rehab, you likely learned how to identify negative influences and triggers in your life that propel you toward substance abuse. Some people self-medicate with illicit drugs to ward off the symptoms of mental health disorders. Others may develop alcoholism or drug addiction through consistent social drinking or drug abuse. For example, the club scene is a hotbed of illicit drugs and alcoholism, and many people who cannot let go of the party culture ultimately succumb to addiction.

Remember how you learned to manage cravings and triggers in rehab. Perhaps some old friends still dabble in substance abuse, so you know that avoiding those individuals is generally advisable if you want to maintain sobriety. However, you can discover new triggers, such as a coworker’s insensitivity or overt ridicule about your past struggles with addiction. You need to remember the lessons learned in rehab and apply them to new situations.

Succeed in Sobriety and Your Career

Ultimately, a lot of the character traits that can help you persist in recovery are the same motivational factors that can help you succeed with your career. The most commonly cited trait of successful individuals is persistence, or the refusal to accept failure and to learn from one’s mistakes to do better with the next attempt toward success.

Rehab is difficult, and returning to normal life after rehab is even harder. The stress of dealing with judgmental coworkers and other negative influences in your life can make it feel as though control is slipping, but it is vital to recognize the opportunity in front of you. In rehab, you learned how to overcome addiction and took a deep look inside yourself to find the drive to reach sobriety. Apply that same tenacity and drive to succeed in your professional career.

You may have returned to a previous position or you may need to find a new line of work after rehab. In either case, remember the strength you found to overcome the barriers between you and sobriety and channel that energy into professional success. You may find that building up your career by taking extra courses, completing certifications, and volunteering for additional experience offers a long-term project that can keep you busy, help you maintain your focus on positive goals, and make it easier for you to disregard others’ judgments about your past.