Finding employment in recovery from addiction

More than 23 million adults identified as being in recovery

Finding employment in recovery from addiction

More than 23 million adults identified as being in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. Fear of stigma and concerns about the stress of new employment is common among adults in early recovery who are seeking to re-enter the workforce.

Re-entering the workforce in early recovery can offer meaning, purpose, and a powerful sense of accomplishment. That doesn’t mean that finding a job or managing the stress of employment in early recovery is easy, however. 

Consider these suggested steps for finding gainful employment after an addiction rehab program:

1. Strengthen Your Resume

Make sure your listed skills reflect your current skill-set. You might consider highlighting life skills you were able to cultivate in a treatment program. For instance, strong communication skills, a strong work ethic, and astute decision-making. 

Also, ask a friend or family member to help you if you’re struggling to remember details about previous employment, or if you’re unsure where to start with your resume. Updating a resume can be a great time for self-reflection. 

2. Look To Your Existing Network 

People in your life who understand where you are, where you’ve been, and your commitment towards contributing as a productive member of society may be able to connect you with job opportunities. They may also be able to serve as credible references. 

Your network may be larger than you think. Cast your net wide. If you’re living in recovery housing, ask the house manager if they’d be willing to attest to your trustworthiness as a reference. If you’re active in recovery support groups, or a 12-step group, ask your sponsor and other participants if they have suggestions on how to find employment.

3. Take Advantage Of Job-Searching Resources And Assistance

There are a number of job-searching resources and job-related assistance programs that exist to help people find gainful employment in early recovery from addiction. 

The National HIRE Network, for instance, can be an invaluable resource for people in early addiction recovery who have a criminal record.

Also consider checking out the many digital resources that are available for resume-building online. Local colleges, community centers, or universities near you may also offer assistance in resume-building and enhancing writing skills.

Additional job-related resources and assistance programs for people in recovery from drug addiction include:

  • The Department of Labor One Stop Career Center
  • America in Recovery
  • Jobs for Felons Hub (job board)
  • Local unemployment offices or government job search assistance programs
  • Online job boards created by local and state health agencies

4. Check In With Yourself Often

Searching for employment can be a stressful process, even for people who aren’t in early recovery from drug addiction.  During this time, it’s important to check in with yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Ask yourself: 

  • How is my stress level right now? 
  • Do I need to take a break for my mental health? 
  • Am I taking advantage of resources available to me? 
  • Am I placing too much pressure on myself to do this alone? 

Looking after your own well-being is a supportive strategy for addiction recovery—as is attending to your personal needs. 

Common Challenges Of Finding Employment In Early Recovery

Depending on a person’s health in early recovery, adults might face mental and physical challenges as well as institutional barriers in their initial searches for employment.  These could include challenges such as stigma around addiction, balancing your job-searching/employment with ongoing treatment, among many others.

Looking within yourself and seeking support from a professional counselor, loved ones, and job assistance professionals can help you determine your next steps forward. 

Considerations For Seeking Employment In Early Recovery

There are several reasons why a person might choose to seek out new employment in early recovery from addiction. These reasons may be financial or personal. Not everyone begins the job-searching process with the same motivations or goals. 

Making Major Life Changes

One common recommendation for people in early sobriety is to refrain from making any major life changes in the first year.  Consider speaking to a counselor about whether this would be a good choice for you. For many, returning to work can offer structure, distraction, and a sense of purpose. Volunteering with local community organizations may offer similar benefits.

If you’re obligated to return to work after completing a substance abuse rehab program, lean on your support network to keep you strong. Reaching out to a counselor or a loved one in times of struggle is an act of strength. Don’t let the fear of what could happen hold you back.

Disclosing Your Addiction To Employers And Coworkers

Federal civil rights laws protect American workers from being discriminated against on the basis of having a disability, under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Mental health disorders, including substance disorders, are included under these protections.

Disclosing your addiction to a potential employer or new coworkers is a personal decision. It is also voluntary.

Preparing for the possibility of self-disclosure, or whether you’re willing to provide that information to an employer, is something you can discuss with a counselor. A substance use counselor can help walk you through all the possible scenarios of what could happen, and help you feel more confident in what information you do choose to share.

Be Patient With Yourself

Being patient with yourself, and showing yourself compassion during this process, is crucial. It’s normal to feel insecure, scared, nervous, and unsure about how to return to employment without drugs or alcohol to fall back on if things get tough. 

Remember that you’ve made it this far. Becoming sober and maintaining your sobriety is a major accomplishment.

You may have to work your way back up, or work from an entirely new slate. This is okay. Recovery is a process of progress, not perfection.

Continue Looking Forward In Your Recovery

Recovery is a lifelong journey that is going to have bumps and hurdles. Don’t lose sight of your goals. Take each step forward one day at a time. Ask for help, be patient with yourself, be proud of how far you’ve come—and have confidence in where you’re going.

For more information and tips on re-entering the workforce after addiction treatment, visit Ark Behavioral Health.

By McKenna Schueler - who works as a content specialist for the behavioral health company, Ark Behavioral Health, which owns a network of substance abuse treatment centers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Psychology.

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