What I Told People When I Checked Into Rehab for Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is a serious medical condition that affects many people. Alcoholism is characterized by drinking that is out of control, a preoccupation with drinking, an inability to complete normal activities or responsibilities, and drinking in spite of the harm it causes. Alcohol use disorder causes significant impairment, but it is treatable. For many people, rehab is the best option. But telling family, friends, and coworkers that you will be going to rehab is difficult. Armed with information and calm determination, telling loved ones about rehab is doable.

Recent research has found that alcohol use disorder is on the rise and that one in eight American adults meets the criteria. So if you have been struggling with alcohol and drinking, you are not alone. Choosing to get treatment is a huge step, and deciding on a few months in rehab is even bigger.

Knowing you need this focused treatment to get better means you understand how difficult recovery can be. The next big hurdle is telling loved ones and your workplace that you are headed to rehab. My story may help you get through this difficult time.

My Journey to Alcoholism


I had never been a big drinker, but when I got divorced and had to face sharing custody with my children, my world just fell apart. The truth is that I used alcohol to cope. On nights I didn’t have my kids, I would drink to the point of being unable to feel anything other than sick.

Then, eventually, I started drinking while my kids were at home with me. They were seven and nine, old enough to not need my constant care, and a glass of wine probably would have been fine. But one glass turned into two, then three, a whole bottle, and then vodka.

I knew I had gotten out of control when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to care for my children in an emergency. No one else caught me and no one gave me a hard time about drinking. I just had to take the step on my own to recognize I had a problem. I realize that it took strength to be able to do that, and that many people need a push from others. But the difficult position it put me in was that I had to tell everyone I had developed a drinking problem and needed help.

Choosing Rehab for Alcoholism


Telling people that I needed help was so hard, harder even than admitting to myself that I had a problem. My biggest fear, by far, was that I would lose my girls. Going to rehab for a few months felt like the right decision for me, but I worried that my ex would use that to gain full custody, that I would never be trusted again to care for my own children.

I chose rehab in spite of these worries. Ultimately, I chose it for my daughters. I wanted the best possible treatment so I could be a better mother for them. I also wanted to show them that when you struggle, you get help. You do what you need to do.

The residential facility I chose would give me the chance to focus on becoming a better person, learning how I could cope with the stresses in my life without resorting to harmful behaviors, and finding out the real, underlying motivations for drinking. I knew I would have access to the best professionals and a variety of types of effective, evidence-based treatments.

Talking to My Family


The first person I had to tell about my decision to go to rehab for alcoholism was my ex. I knew I could avoid all this potential conflict and consequences by secretly going to some outpatient therapy or a support group. But I knew I had to face it and couldn’t go through rehab alone.

I started the conversation by explaining how much I had struggled during and after our divorce and when the girls were away with him. He understood because, of course, he went through the same thing. His empathy was real and a big relief. This explanation helped soften the blow when I told him about my drinking.

He was angry, and he didn’t want me to go to rehab initially. He felt the girls would suffer too much. But after an hour or so of talking, during which I remained calm and explained that I wanted to go to rehab, he finally came around. He got it. He knew that my focus was on our kids and that going away for a few months was the best way to ensure I could be the best mother possible in the future. We discussed how to tell the kids about where I would be, how we could be honest without giving them all the details.

I also had to tell my parents. I needed them to know, and I needed them to be there for the kids while I was gone. I approached it in a similar way as with my ex, first telling them that I had been struggling alone for a while. They understood immediately and encouraged me to go to rehab.

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Talking to Friends About Rehab


With my family firmly on my side, I realized I would have to tell other people too. My absence would be noticed. I briefly considered lying, but I knew my best future would be one in which I was honest and truly myself. I told just a few close friends and gave them permission to tell others.

I told my friends the truth about how hard the divorce had been, but I also made sure to emphasize how careful I had been to keep it to myself. I hadn’t wanted to burden anyone else, but that backfired in the long run. I didn’t want my friends to feel guilty about not providing enough support.

They were all very encouraging and agreed that rehab was a good idea. They asked about the kids and what they could do to help. This, along with the support my parents offered in wanting to be there for my girls, eased some of my concerns. I knew there would be a small army of people ready to step in and help out.

Telling My Boss


It should have been most difficult to talk to the people I care the most about, but to be honest, I was terrified to tell my boss that I needed time off for rehab. The first thing I did was some research into my rights to privacy and leave. I learned that I could use the Family Medical Leave Act to get an extended, if unpaid, leave of absence.

I also found out that addiction can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law states that I can tell as much or as little to my boss and employer as I choose. In fact, I found from many sources that it is important to disclose my issues if I want to get the time off, but that I should tell my boss only the most essential facts.

So when I approached my boss, with a representative from HR, I had a plan for exactly what I would say. I just explained that since my difficult divorce I had developed a problem with drinking, that I had been screened and diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, and that my doctor recommended I spend at least two months in rehab.

To my relief, my boss was very understanding. She didn’t want to lose me as an employee and was happy to give me the unpaid time off to get treatment. I was glad I didn’t have to invoke any of the laws that ensure I could get that time off, but it was good to know about them just in case.

With the most important people in my life informed, I was ready to enter rehab. Three months later, I was back home with my daughters. My ex never tried to get custody, and I believe that is in part due to the way I handled the situation. My friends and co-workers welcomed me back and have been kind and understanding. Setting up my loved ones and workplace to understand what I was going through has made the transition back to sobriety easier. Talking about addiction and treatment is hard, but it is both possible and necessary.


Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.