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Transitioning back to work after treatment for a substance use disorder can be daunting and stressful.

People in recovery already struggle with embarrassment, guilt, and shame. The prospect of going back to work can magnify these emotions if your employer and co-workers know why you’ve been away.

One key difference between addiction and other physical diseases is the stigma faced by those who suffer from addiction. Indeed, it could be argued that stigma is the primary reason for making a return to work challenging for so many people in the early stages of recovery.

If you go into hospital for a heart bypass or back surgery, you wouldn’t think twice about returning to work. Unfortunately, society still harbors so many prejudices against addiction that a return to work after rehab doesn’t hold quite the same appeal.

If your colleagues know you’ve been in drug or alcohol rehab, you may feel self-conscious and worried about how you’ll be treated.

Anxiety and stress are the last things you need when you return to work. The act of returning to work itself, though, is a significant milestone in a person’s recovery.

And there’s some good news: if you intend to be honest about your time off, legislation in place is designed to protect you.

 

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

A man holding his daughter in his arms. FMLA allows individuals to return to work after leaving to heal a medical issue

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles you to 12 weeks of (unpaid) leave to receive medical treatment. Your job will also be held open so you can return when you’re back on track.

You are not obliged to give a specific reason for your leave. Your physician can simply provide a written declaration to your employer that you need time off for a serious medical condition.

Your employer can ask for a second opinion if they are not convinced this medical condition is legitimately grave. That said, they are not permitted to contact HR, your healthcare provider, or management for further details. Doing so would leave them subject to potential legal action.

So, how does this legislation work exactly?

 

How Does The Family and Medical Leave Act Work?

While the FMLA entitles you to unpaid leave, it also protects your job. This means that your employer must keep your job open for you. If they move you to another position, the new role must:

  • Have the same pay and benefits such as vacation, sick pay, health insurance, pensions, and life insurance
  • Be within a similar geographical location and have similar shift patterns
  • Have the same level of responsibility and duties
  • Require the same skills

Dealing With Co-Workers

The office of an individual who is returning to work after attending rehab

After a month or so off work, your colleagues might wonder what’s going on. They may also start questioning why you no longer go for drinks after work.

You are likely to encounter questions about where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing.

Now, this presents a dilemma…

Do you come clean and tell the truth? Or do you concoct a cover story about caring for a sick relative?

If you choose to mask what’s happening, that’s your decision, but it will mean coping with the stress of holding the story together.

If you are honest instead, you could be opening yourself up to judgment, something which is also anxiety-inducing.

Some colleagues may guess immediately where you’ve been. Others might not have a clue, while some could even have been to rehab themselves.

Being open and frank is certainly daunting. The thing is, being honest will give strength to others in your position in the workplace and you can lead by example.

So, we’ll assume you’ve done all the hard work of medical detox, and you’ve seen through your rehab program, whether that’s a residential stay or an intensive outpatient program in Oklahoma.

What next?

 

Stay Strong When You Return

Your first day back to work will be challenging.

As you walk in, you might feel like people are looking at you and judging you. It could feel as if peoples’ eyes are boring right into the back of you.

And this is perfectly natural, it’s all part of the process. We won’t be trite enough to ask you to embrace this, but you should accept it for what it is.

Then, when you can continue to hold your head up high and put one foot in front of the other regardless of the anxiety, you’ve won an enormous victory in your recovery.

So, you’ve climbed mountains to get to this point, and now it’s your time to shine.

As you’ve successfully detoxed and are no longer substance-use impaired, you are now in a position to truly thrive.

 

Hold Your Head Up High

A woman smiling because she is happy to return to work

Addiction is a disease, not a sign of moral failure. Always remember this.

While in rehab, you will doubtless have done some inner work. You will also have had a break from work and colleagues.

Being open and candid about why you’ve been away may be intimidating, but by doing so you’re owning your recovery and inspiring others in a similar situation. After all, it’s highly likely you’re not the only one in recovery at your workplace, and that means you have allies.

As you stay strong in your recovery and start to thrive in your job, fresh opportunities will open up to you.

Don’t forget either that when you demonstrate that you can overcome addiction and turn your life around, you are helping to shape attitudes in others. When any judgmental colleagues witness your success in recovery and work, they will start to learn and understand more about others with addiction.

Your candidness is a vital part of healing the community in this tragic crisis.

 

What To Do Next

The first and most crucial step, the one on which all the above rests, is kickstarting your recovery. You don’t need to do this alone so call us today at 888-448-0302 and we’ll help you reclaim your life.

About the Author

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Landmark Recovery Staff

This post was written by a Landmark Recovery staff member. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-448-0302.

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