For Executives, Working While in Addiction Treatment Comes with Pros and Cons

If you’re a high-level executive considering residential addiction treatment, you may be wondering whether it makes sense to bring your work to your treatment program. Making yourself available for work commitments comes with pros and cons, and it’s crucial to consider them all. Regardless of your choice, what matters most is that your treatment plan is tailored to fit your individual needs, whether that’s working from treatment, not working from treatment, or someplace in between.

When it came to hiding her addiction, Tristen had the market cornered. She filled water canteens with wine, kept hard liquor in a locked office cabinet, and had a bag of Xanax labeled “allergy medication.” But she was the Director of Public Relations for a major corporate law firm, so this was the way it had to be. She needed treatment—that was certain—but she was terrified of being away from work for 30 days. Would she lose her job? Her livelihood, her clients, her reputation? She knew that she would likely be able to come back for a meeting or two, or take an important client call from treatment, but wouldn’t that detract from the inner work that she so clearly needed to do? Would it be worth it?

If you’re asking yourself some of the same questions, know that you’re not alone. Addiction is surrounded by stigma and shame, especially for high-powered executives with reputations at stake, and that makes it almost impossible to be open about your own addiction. For that reason, many programs adapt to meet the needs of executives by offering to integrate key meetings—things they just can’t miss—into their treatment plans.That can make it easier for them to avoid uncomfortable questions about a long-term absence, and help them maintain their privacy. Taking on a few work responsibilities while undergoing treatment makes sense for some (like Tristen), but not for all, and it’s something you’ll have to think critically about when you’re considering your own options for treatment.

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The Benefits of Working from Your Residential Treatment Program

There are a couple of reasons why working from treatment benefits those who choose to do so. The most practical is that taking on work-related commitments while you’re in a residential program gives you a supported space in which to learn to manage work triggers. To start, you’ll “prep” for a business call or meeting during a therapy session in which your therapist guides you in identifying your triggers, and then helps you brainstorm healthier and more effective ways that you can deal with them. Then, you’ll debrief during a second session, after your meeting, where you can process what went well, what went less than well, and what you can adjust for next time.

Working from residential treatment can also help conceal your absence from colleagues and clients. In the age of the internet and social media, everything happens in real-time. CEOs and other high-profile execs often act as “brand stewards” for the companies they lead, and their images are paramount. Your job is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but attending an important decision-making meeting (whether that’s in person with the help of a sober companion, or by video conference) can still help keep prying eyes and ears from interrogating your absence.

The Disadvantages of Working from Your Residential Treatment Program

There may be quite a few strong reasons to bring your work to treatment, but that doesn’t mean it’s an idea without flaws. Obviously, if you’re spending most of your day in front of a computer, you’re not really in treatment. You and your treatment team can minimize disruption to core program components by deliberately scheduling in important work events, but even then, at least some of your focus will be elsewhere. That can detract from the wellness work you do, and make it harder to process the issues that often underlie addiction, like trauma or existing mental health challenges.

The most significant disadvantage, though, is that many who seek treatment need to be removed from their work environment entirely before they can even think about beginning their recovery journeys. For many executives, substance use is driven by a need to cope with (or escape from) the pressures they encounter at work—pressures to command their markets, to keep their companies growing, to lead with confidence and aplomb. Those pressures often trigger their drug use, and in those cases, working from treatment (even a little) can both inhibit healing and be a barrier to recovery. If that sounds like a familiar narrative, it’s best to start with a clean slate in a treatment program that’s free of those triggers; that way, you’ll start by building a strong foundation of healthier coping skills you can use to deal with stress when you finally do return to work, like yoga, regular exercise, mindfulness meditation, and acupuncture.

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Regardless of the Path You Choose, Individualized Treatment Is Key

Whatever program you choose, it’s essential that your treatment plan be individualized around you, so that you can pursue what makes the most sense, whether that’s working, not working, or something in between. An individualized treatment plan adapts to meet your needs—even if they change—and in that sense, it’s a kind of living document that fits itself into your life rather than the other way around. What kind of involvement with work feels good to you? Do your instincts tell you to stay away from work entirely while you’re in treatment? Is gradually increasing involvement something you want to shoot for?

They’re not questions you have to answer on your own. You’ll have a strong treatment team to support you as you navigate them, and to help you identify new options if your original plans don’t pan out. It’s okay if they don’t; recovery is a process, and half the battle lies in adaptation. But it’s crucial that your needs lie at the center of that adaptation, and an addiction program that champions individualized care is a surefire way to make sure that happens.

Alta Mira Recovery offers comprehensive treatment options to people living with addiction as well as co-occurring mental health challenges. If you’re an executive looking for a way out of a high-functioning addiction, connect with us today to learn more about how we can help you get back to the things that matter most.