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How to Seek Help if You’re Hiding an Addiction at Work
By Eva Benoit
Most people have an image in their head of what an addict looks like. While the stereotypes vary, they tend to have one thing in common: Addicts are perceived as unproductive members of society. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to acknowledge your own drug or alcohol addiction when you’re a successful working professional.
Addiction in the professional sector doesn’t fit the stereotype. Highly functioning addicts can get up and go to work each day, own nice homes, and have picture-perfect lives from an outsider’s view. But inside, there’s turmoil. Professionals are susceptible to self-medicate workplace stress with drugs or alcohol, indulge in too many happy hours, engage in binge drinking and drug use on nights off, or use drugs to boost their work performance. In many industries, drug and alcohol use is part of the culture. However, even when certain vices are socially accepted at work, they still hold serious consequences for employees.
It’s easy to tell yourself that your substance use isn’t a problem when you’re excelling in daily life. But the truth is that the average person with an addiction isn’t panhandling on a corner—they’re showing up to a job and doing it well. According to Harvard Health Blog, more than 70 percent of people with a substance use disorder are employed. But when you have an addiction, something inevitably cracks. Maybe your relationships suffer, your work performance starts to decline, or your find yourself in trouble with the law. And as your stress increases, so does your substance use, leading to a cycle of addiction.
When you’re in this state, it’s hard to see a way out. Most professionals can’t afford to lose income while staying at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, and worry that news of their addiction will threaten their career. However, professionals with addictions have some protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you have an alcohol addiction but it doesn’t affect your work, including performance, attendance, and sobriety on the job, your employer can’t terminate you for having an addiction. While people addicted to illicit substances can be fired for active drug use, they can’t be let go if they’re sober and in recovery.
These protections make addiction treatment more accessible to working professionals, but they doesn’t answer the question of how you’ll take time off work during rehab. Some workers are eligible to take protected but unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. If you can’t afford to go without pay or otherwise need to maintain a presence at work, an executive drug rehab program is a good choice. These inpatient treatment programs are geared to the needs of professionals. Equipped with office facilities and high-speed internet, they offer time and space for patients to work while undergoing treatment.
Unfortunately, for many professionals, the challenge doesn’t end after leaving a treatment program. When your workplace encourages social drinking at happy hours, company events, and client meetings, it’s hard to go against the grain and stay sober. Remaining in your current career may mean facing constant temptation, which is not a wise choice for an addict in the early stages of recovery. It may be better for your health to find a new job at an organization with a healthier company culture. While it’s hard to leave a great job, no salary is worth your mental and physical health.
No one chooses addiction. That’s why it’s so dangerous; it can sneak up on you when everything is going right and you’re checking all the boxes of success. But you gain nothing by ignoring a substance problem or by telling yourself it’s not an issue because you’re still functioning. If you want to stay healthy, happy, and functioning for life, recovery is essential.
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