Reentering the Workplace After Addiction: How to Rebuild Your Life

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The Challenges of Finding Employment After Addiction

Despite the great progress society has made, there is unfortunately still a stigma against addiction and individuals who have struggled with substance abuse. Some potential employers won’t even consider hiring someone in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. As a result, it can be challenging to navigate the job market. But with realistic expectations and the right resources, it is more than possible to rebuild your career after addiction.

  • Beginning to Reimagine Life Again With Mindfulness

Getting your life back on track after drug or alcohol treatment may be hard to imagine. When you’re already faced with the difficulties that come with the recovery process, it may feel overwhelming to think about consistent employment. But there are many ways to start this re-imagination process, such as practicing mindfulness.

According to the International Journal for Mental Health and Addiction, mindfulness can have a significant impact on the recovery process. By helping the person fine-tune their “skills of moment-to-moment awareness,” mindfulness can “activate the medial prefrontal regions” of the brain. In this activation, you are able to see the yourself clearly and without judgment, as well as a broader and fresher perspective on life.

By practicing being present and cultivating this new perspective, you are more likely to see the opportunities when they come.

  • Understanding the Challenges You Are Facing

Being mindful also includes acknowledging the difficulties of the job search after addiction, a process that is often fraught with employer skepticism. Regardless of their backgrounds or skillsets, recovered addicts face a unique set of challenges as they begin searching for a job. The challenges recovering addicts and alcoholics face when reentering the work may include:

  • Gaps on their resumes during periods of addiction, rehab, and unemployment
  • A complicated legal history of arrest and/or incarceration
  • Negative references from past employers
  • Inconsistent employment history
  • Minimal educational background
  • Skill deficit, especially with recent skills in their industry

Once you understand the challenges you face, you can begin taking achievable steps to overcoming those obstacles. If you have poor education or lack of skills, for instance, you can start taking night classes or enrolling in a training program aimed at closing that gap. If there are hard-to-explain gaps in your resume, you can practice these hard conversation in mock job interviews with your friends or mentors. 

  • Reaching Out to Your Network of Support

Even though you may have had to cut ties with negative influences in your life, you now have a positive network of individuals who played (and are playing) a role in your recovery. Reach out to your counselors, therapists, doctors, sponsors, and other members of your support group for brainstorming ideas. Their positive references are important for potential employers, and they may also be able to help you find employment opportunities that are suitable to your unique situation.

You can reach out to supportive family and friends, too, and ask for their help in making connections with future employers. Building new connections in new areas of your life is also key, such as volunteering with local organizations or attending community events. This will help you build a new social network that is in line with your recovery goals and healthy living. The importance of this network of support cannot be understated—they can even help you stop a potential relapse when things get tough and be your cheerleaders when you need it most.

  • Being Flexible and Open-Minded

Remember that a full-time job is a big commitment and can be stressful to think about right out the gate of recovery. And although you’ll be eager to do well in your new position and prove to your boss that you can handle the job responsibilities, these new stressors could be a potential trigger. If you’re not quite ready for a full-time job and think that it may put you at risk for relapse, part-time work may be a better option at first.

Being open-minded about the types of positions that may be available to you will also help your transition. You may find that you need to re-educate yourself in certain areas or build up an entirely new skillset. In the early stages, you may need to accept a position that isn’t at the same level as your previous job. Instead of seeing this as a setback, focus on doing well in your new role and growing in the opportunities that have presented themselves.

  • Being Aware of Your Rights

Overcoming addiction is a huge milestone. Although life in recovery presents a number of challenges, it is important to know your rights and how you are legally protected despite societal stigma. Substance use disorder (SUD) is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that employers cannot discriminate against you in their hiring practices.

Even during the interview process, your medical privacy is protected by law. Although most job applications ask about prior criminal convictions, there are certain things an employer cannot ask you in an interview. These include anything that would require you to disclose the details of your substance use disorder. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support group on how to best go about preparing for such situations.

  • Prioritizing Your Recovery and Well-Being 

Above all else, it is essential to prioritize your recovery even if it means a reduction of work hours or change of environment. Even after you have left residential treatment, you need to actively maintain your recovery. This may include attending an outpatient therapy group or joining a peer support organization like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). As you’re looking for jobs, think about how the work schedule is compatible with your recovery activities.

Remind yourself often that your first priority is your recovery. Ultimately, your recovery and your new job should be mutually supportive and help you thrive in rebuilding and reimagining your life.

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