When Addiction Threatens Your Livelihood

For some of us, our career has its way with our hearts — we pour our creativity, our drive, and our hopes in and get just as much satisfaction out. Maybe you feel the same way, or maybe it’s just a job, but it’s a job that you need to support the most important people in your life. You don’t want your addiction to jeopardize the life you have created at work, but how can you seek treatment if you’re worried about getting fired? How can you possibly broach such a shameful subject with your employer? What will happen to your finances while you’re in rehab? All of these concerns can be managed, if first you address the problem — your addiction.

How do I know it is time?

You may think you are hiding your addiction, especially if you are a high-functioning alcoholic. Maybe you only drink at night or on weekends, but someone at work has noticed; your performance isn’t what it used to be. You come in late, hungover, or take too many sick days. If you are noticing this pattern in your life, head off your addiction before it ruins everything of value in your life.

Don’t wait for a catastrophic event like an arrest for a DUI or a demotion to compel you to get sober. When you notice that you are losing the respect of your superiors, making more mistakes at work, and your colleagues are “forgetting” to invite you to social events, it’s time to admit you have a problem and seek treatment.

Struggling with Drug Addiction?

Recovery is Possible

But I don’t want anyone to know. What If I lose my job?

You may already be on the road to losing your job, whether you know it or not. What can save your career and your reputation is getting the help you need, and getting you back to functioning your best at work.

Talk to your Human Resources manager. Confiding in your human resources professional protects you. An HR manager must keep your information confidential, and you can’t be fired for coming forward and letting them know you have a problem. And don’t be worried if you see the manager taking notes — they must do this to protect you and the company, but HR records are considered sacrosanct, and your information will not be divulged to your supervisor or colleagues.

If you work for a large corporation, there are protocols in place to guide your HR manager in supporting you. If there is more than one HR manager, talk to the one you feel most comfortable with, tell them you realize you need help, and that you would appreciate any support they can provide you. An HR manager will refer you to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs are designed specifically to help people like you, and can be the perfect resource to discuss your treatment needs. If the company doesn’t provide these services, an empathic HR manager will find other avenues of support.

If you work for a unionized company, your labor union will usually have resources such as an EAP, and it is their job to protect yours by ensuring you are treated fairly and receive assistance with treatment.

Smaller companies may not have these resources available. Let’s say you work for a company of 10 or 20 people and there is no EAP or HR. Do you feel that you can confide in your direct manager or the owner of the company? They will appreciate your honesty and courage in coming forward. Although they may not have extensive resources, you can ask for time off work to enter recovery, or reduced work hours to seek outpatient treatment. Perhaps you have vacation time accrued you can take, or sick days you haven’t used.

If you are a valued employee, it’s in your employer’s best interest to help you get the treatment you need — and it’s always better to be open and honest with your employer, and act proactively, instead of reactively. Don’t let shame or other concerns stop you from seeking help with your recovery.

I have too much responsibility

It’s easy to find excuses when you aren’t sure you want to make change in your life. We all do it. That big project can wait or be passed off to someone else. I’ll respond to my boss’ email in the morning. I’ll buy a gym membership after I get that raise. But don’t use your job’s responsibilities as an excuse to avoid treatment. Think — if you had a heart attack or a serious physical illness, you would certainly take time off work to recover. Addiction is a disease, and you deserve the time to get healthy, too.

Take the time to take care of yourself. A residential treatment center offers a supportive environment where you can focus 100 percent on getting well, but not everyone has that option because of time constraints, family responsibilities, or financial reasons. Many treatment centers also offer outpatient care, where compassionate people will help you through an intensive, structured recovery program organized around your work commitments. You can also attend meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or any other 12-step group. There are meetings across the country day and night and on weekends. An addiction specialist can help you determine the level of care you need. Some people do well in an outpatient program, especially if they are already receiving some kind of support. But if you feel that you are at a critical stage in your addiction, it’s best to immerse yourself in a luxury drug rehab for professionals.

My family depends on my income

Your family may need your income, but first and foremost they need you. Taking the time now to seek treatment will help ensure a solid future both as a family and in your career. And in the meantime, you can ask your EAP or HR manager what kind of benefits or financial support is available while you’re away for rehab.

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family or medical reasons, and it it allows the continuation of your group health insurance coverage. This includes employees who are taking leave for substance abuse treatment based on certain conditions. For example, the treatment must be provided by a professional health care provider or service, such as a treatment center. You aren’t eligible for FMLA leave if you are still using drugs or alcohol; you must be in treatment.
  • The FMLA also allows a covered employee to take a leave if they are caring for a family member who is in treatment for addiction.

It’s your life and your career

A clear mind and a healthy body helps you live a more vibrant life, at work and at home. Your addiction has narrowed not only your enjoyment of life, but also your potential. Take time away from the pressure of work and get healthy. That power suit is meaningless without the power that comes with sobriety. When you return to work, you’ll see everything through clear eyes. You’ll have a strong foundation to stand on and a renewed sense of who you are; a person made for success, with the courage to fight their addiction and the vision to see a new kind of future.