Do I Still Have a Job? Returning to the Workplace After Rehab

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Making the Decision to Enter Rehab

Rehabilitation programs including traditional 12-step meeting groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) require a commitment to recovery. However, many people that participate in rehabilitation programs may not realize that the commitment to get sober could cause them to miss out on work. In the workplace, substance abuse commonly occurs as a natural side effect to high levels of workplace stress. One study showed the relationship clearly between occupational stress, substance abuse and depression. 1

So, what can you do if you feel like you, or a co-worker is struggling with substance abuse?

If you feel like someone in the workplace may be at risk of developing Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD), you may want to talk to them about it. Or, if you are worried about workplace stress and the associated health problems including an increased risk for SUD, it is time to get honest about talking about SUD in the workplace. If you want to start working on recovery, the first step is making the decision to enter a traditional 12-step rehabilitation program, or another type of rehab. Then, you can talk to your employer about making the decision to take on recovery from your addiction. If they allow you to take time off in order to enter an inpatient rehab program, you can then take the leave. However, returning to the workplace after battling an addiction in rehab may require some preparation, especially if you feel that you need to make changes.

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How-To Return to the Workplace Gracefully

After rehab, you may want to enter the workplace with confidence and grace. However, returning to the workplace could be intimidating.

Here are just a few tips on “H.O.W.” to establish a solid foundation in your sobriety as you return to work:

  • Honesty. This is always the best policy in the workplace. If you are ready to return to work, always try to remember that being realistic about your workplace stress levels is vital to your successful recovery. Then, the time you have invested in a rehab program will never be wasted. Be honest about the pressures you have at work, and what you have experienced in the past with your workplace stress levels, weaknesses, and strengths, too! It is the best way to develop a support system at work that you can count on during recovery.
  • Open Minded. After rehab, you’ll need to develop new hobbies, relationships, and workplace habits. Keeping an open mind can really help this process! After entering the “real world,” following a traditional rehabilitation program you may feel out of place and want to return to doing all of the things you used to do when you were an addict. But you know that you can’t. So, go ahead and try new things! Being open minded is a great way to find new ways to love your life in recovery. You may be able to consider some work-at-home opportunities if you feel like that is a better option than simply returning to your original workplace.
  • Willing. You’ll need to ask yourself a very important question if you want to return to the workplace after rehab. “Am I willing to accept a lower pay rate, for lower stress levels?” If you feel like you need to reduce the amount of hours you work, where you work, or the type of work you do, it is a good idea to do that. That way you may be able to reduce the amount of stress you experience, and also your risk of relapse. Remember what they say in recovery fellowships: “If you don’t put your sobriety ahead of your job, you will lose both.” And be willing to do whatever it takes to stay on track with your recovery plan. That’s H.O.W. you get it done.

Entering the Workplace and Staying Sober

Staying sober after rehab takes on a different face in the workplace. You may feel like you need to change your regular behaviors in order to maintain your sobriety. And you should! Recovery is a step-by-step process that may require you separate yourself from others, especially in the workplace. After all, your sobriety is your #1 priority, but if someone is unsupportive of that, it could trigger you to relapse.

If you are able to return to your original place of work, you may just need to talk to your employer about making necessary accommodations for your recovery. These can include things like a staggered break schedule for more solitude, or even shorter work hours overall. If you need to find a new place of business in order to maintain stability during your recovery, look for new jobs that support your sobriety. Then, prepare yourself for an interview with employers that can help you to maintain a non-addictive lifestyle.

Also, it is important to remember to address gaps on your resume properly if you are seeking new employment. Asking about an absence is common during an interview, but you don’t have to explain your addiction. You can simply say that you took medical leave and removed it from your work history.

Getting a Strong Support System Going

Take your recovery one day at a time, and remember that each step towards lasting sobriety is an important one. It takes time to nurture your new sobriety, and recovery can seem like a job in itself, so you may need to lean on someone, or grab a helpful hand along the way.

Scientists know that a strong support system is vital during recovery to people suffering with substance abuse. This type of support can come in many forms but studies show that any type of peer support including something as simple as giving and receiving assistance from people with the similar circumstances of addiction can help. 2

Supporting Yourself in Recovery

Developing a strong support system during recovery is very important to maintaining the strength you need in your sobriety. So, never underestimate the value of having sober friendships, even if they pop up in strange places like the Farmer’s market, or the dog park. As long as they are sober friendships – it’s all good! Beyond that, returning to the workplace after rehab may still cause you more stress than you want to take on.

Try these 3 holistic recovery therapies to slash your stress in the workplace:

  1. Massage. If you want to relieve tension, stress, and anxiety, you may want to lay down for a calming massage. This type of holistic therapy can be done any time at home, or by a professional massage therapist to promote detoxification, cut stress levels and even boost your good mood! Research has confirmed that massage therapy can lower stress hormone production (cortisol) and boost “feel-good” brain chemicals including serotonin, and dopamine. 3
  2. Aromatherapy. Using essential oils for aromatherapy during recovery is a wonderful way to ease your stress. While most all essential oils offer potent healing properties, some of the best oils for aromatherapy during recovery include sandalwood, frankincense and lavender. Lavender has also been shown in clinical trials to offer pain relief, as well as anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant actions. Plus it may help you sleep better, too! 4
  3. Meditation. If yoga classes intimidate you – you’re not alone! But meditation isn’t has hard as it sounds and you don’t have to be an ancient guru to enjoy it.

Here is one simple breathing meditation, also known as Pranamya, you can do any place you like!

  • To begin, sit in a comfortable position with your hands placed in your lap. Then, face forward and align your spine with your neck. Gently close your eyes.
  • Then, take a long deep breath inward through your nose only. Take time to fill your belly with breath, as you count to 5.
  • Then, exhale the breath out of your mouth and as you release it, count slowly to 5 (1-2-3-4-5). Repeat this breathing pattern for one minute.
  • After you have completed about 20 breathing cycles, introduce this mantra, “One day at a time.” You will repeat this mantra silently in your mind during each exhale.
  • Continue with the breathing exercise and as you do, simply allow your mind to do what it will. If you notice a thought, a sound in the environment, or a feeling in your body that distracts you from being aware of only your breathing, let that thought or sensation pass, and simply continue to breathe. That is how you practice mindfulness. All you have to do is breathe and the rest is simply known as meditation.

Note: You may decide to set a kitchen timer so you can more fully engage in the mediation, carefree about the number of breath cycles you’ve taken.

Studies have shown that this type of simple meditation practice is associated with actual changes in the brain. These positive changes can occur in as little as 2 weeks!

If you want to take time off of work to address an addiction, take these points into consideration. And always put your health first. Sobriety is possible, and you can maintain a professional workplace appearance and still take on recovery without losing your quality of life. It’s worth it!  


  1. Wiesner M, Windle M. Work stress, substance use, and depression among young adult workers: an examination of main and moderator effect model. J Occup Health Psychol. 2005 Apr;10(2):83-96.
  2. Kathlene Tracy, Samantha P Wallace. Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2016; 7: 143–154.
  3. Field T, Hernandez-Reif M. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Oct;115(10):1397-413.
  4. Peir Hossein Koulivand,  Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri. Lavender and the Nervous System. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 681304.

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