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Should I Tell my Employer About my Addiction?

Written on June 24, 2021
Should I Tell my Employer About my Addiction?

While there is a wide misconception that drug and alcohol addiction primarily affects those who are jobless and/or homeless, the truth is that over 70% of those who have a substance use disorder are employed. Addiction can affect anyone and can look vastly different for different people. While some people may be unable to function due to their substance abuse disorder, many others, such as those with what is commonly referred to as “high-functioning alcoholism,” continue on with their responsibilities and appear to the outside world to “have it all together.”

Considering whether or not to disclose having a substance use disorder to an employer can be daunting. Because of the stigma associated with drug and alcohol addiction, many people are fearful of losing their jobs or derailing their careers if they discuss their addiction struggles with colleagues or workplace superiors. Yet if you need to take time off to go to rehab, the conversation will be unavoidable. Luckily, you have rights when you seek treatment for addiction. Here are some things to consider in discussing your substance abuse disorder with your employer:

  1. Employer discrimination against those with substance use disorders is illegal.Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer is legally not allowed to discriminate based on medical conditions, including Substance Use Disorder. This includes firing you because of your addiction. If your employer discriminates against you because of your addiction, such as firing you, you would have legal recourse.
  2. Being aware of your addiction may help an employer understand your struggles at work.When an employer is aware of your substance abuse disorder, it gives them the opportunity to understand that issues you may be having at work are due to a medical condition rather than being a caused by issues relating to your personality, motivation, or merit. It can be helpful for your boss to have the knowledge that your substance use disorder has affected your job performance, and that you need help. You are showing courage, strength, and integrity in your choice to seek treatment.

    Further, many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in their benefits package so that they can help their employees who struggle with addiction and other mental health issues. These benefits give employees access to no-cost substance use assessments, treatment referral services, and counseling.

  3. Employers are also legally obligated to allow you time off for rehab without it jeopardizing your jobBecause of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your employer may be required to allow you time off for medical treatment, including drug and alcohol rehab, without it jeopardizing your job. Depending on your benefits, you may be entitled to some or all of your leave as paid time off. If you have short term disability benefits, you may be able to use them to take time off for an addiction treatment program.
  4. If your employer is aware of your addiction, they may be able to work with your treatment schedule If you require a lower level of addiction treatment, such as an intensive outpatient program (IOP), you may be able to continue working through treatment. IOPs usually meet for three hour sessions, three to five times a week. An employer who is in the know about your treatment may be able to accommodate this schedule, and will likely be more accommodating for additional appointments, such as meetings with doctors, individual therapists, or case managers.
  5. In preparing for your conversation with your employer, it may be helpful to review your company’s policies surrounding substance abuse Whether or not your company has policies in place to address drug and alcohol addiction may give you insight into how your substance abuse disorder will be received when disclosed. Those who have benefits such as EAPs, for example, are more likely to understand that a substance abuse disorder as a medical condition requiring treatment. Looking at your company’s sick policies may also give you insight into how time off for treatment will be handled by your employer.

What addiction treatment will look like

If you suspect that you may have a substance use disorder, schedule an assessment with a qualified treatment provider to determine what level of care is best for you. An addiction professional will also help you determine whether or not you may need medical detox. Medical detox is a medical setting where you can safely come off of alcohol or drugs while managing the risks associated with withdrawal symptoms. It is extremely important to avoid detoxing at home or without qualified medical supervision.

Following detox, there are several options of addiction treatment available depending on your needs. Some programming, such as residential or partial-hospitalization with a structured sober living component offers twenty-four hour accountability and support while addressing your alcohol addiction and includes curricula to help with relapse prevention, developing healthy coping strategies, addressing underlying mental health or trauma issues, and building a sober community, among other things. A typical stay in this type of rehab setting is 30-90 days. Our mindfulness-based curricula includes experiential therapies such as meditation, yoga, hiking, art, and equine therapy as well as other evidence-based treatment modalities such as CBT, DBT, EMDR, MI, and ACT.

For those who need a lower level of care, intensive outpatient (IOP) can be a great option. IOP programming includes between 9-15 hours a week of group programming, plus individual counseling, and can accommodate the schedule of someone working or going to school without the need to take time off. IOP programming at Flatirons Recovery can be done virtually via Telehealth, in-person in our office just outside of Boulder, Colorado, or a combination of the two.