How to Balance Work with Recovery from Addiction
Available research tells us that having or keeping a job helps people stay sober1 as well as providing many other life-enhancing and recovery-supporting benefits. However, the addiction itself may have damaged existing work relationships or prevented establishing a reliable work history, and those in sober living homes often have competing commitments to essential therapy.
This combination of factors can make it challenging to find and keep a job in early recovery. Involuntary unemployment rates among the more than 22 million Americans in recovery are more than twice the national average.1
The good news is that recovering addicts thrive with the structure and sense of purpose that comes from working to support themselves and their families. Let’s look into some ways to balance the demands of working with the goals of recovery, and how to support ourselves or our loved ones through this important phase of the recovery process.
Why Is Work So Important During Recovery?
Recovering from addiction is necessary and meaningful work focused on rebuilding a life. As part of sober living rehab, finding purpose, repairing relationships, and rebuilding self-esteem are essential components to the recovery process.
Just some of the reasons that working supports recovery from addiction include:
- Restoring self-sufficiency. Taking care of yourself is the first step to being able to support and care for others. With self-sufficiency comes increased self-esteem, knowing you can successfully support yourself as a sober person.
- Returning to normalcy. If you have an existing job, getting back to familiar territory and proving to yourself and others that you can fulfill your responsibilities restores stability and security to you and your family.
- Improving financial stability. The cycles of addiction have a damaging impact on savings and even meeting the basic needs of food and housing can be challenging. Working while sober offers the opportunity to manage your budget and prioritize your finances with a clear mind.
- Using time constructively. Dwelling on the past and remaining isolated will not build the new life habits that support healing. Filling your days with constructive paid or volunteer work makes a real difference in the world and how you feel about your place within it.
- Inoculation to reality. During early recovery, addicts are learning to deal with triggers and stressors that might have led them to use in the past. Leaving a sober living facility and returning to the responsibilities of an independent adult will necessarily expose you to the very situations that must be overcome in order to participate fully in life.
- Fulfilling responsibilities. Only by keeping commitments and being responsible to yourself, your family, and your community can you establish trust. By consistently doing what you said you would and taking on greater responsibilities, you can become the person that others depend upon.
When Should You Return to Work During Recovery?
With a few exceptions, which we will discuss later, it is a good idea to return to your former job as soon as possible. A slow transition might begin while staying in sober living homes or during outpatient treatment.
Some of the reasons it is easier to return to your old job are:
- A strong suggestion from your 12-step program or sober living facility not to make drastic life changes, including career or relationship changes, for at least one year after achieving sobriety.
- The increased stress of job seeking or learning a new career may impact your recovery goals.
- Your existing employer may provide mental health programs that will help jump-start your success in returning to work after recovery.
- The loyalty built with an employer that supports your recovery provides stability and career advancement opportunities sooner than a new job.
- Taking the time to get to know yourself as a sober adult will help you determine the right career path and build skills for your future without upsetting family stability.
When Is It a Bad Idea to Return to Work?
When an existing job offers access to drugs and alcohol or will bring the recovering addict into direct contact with people and places associated with addiction, it would not be the right step to return to that environment. A complete change of surroundings and colleagues might be needed and may be strongly recommended by your sponsors, counselors, or halfway house staff.
Some of the jobs you should consider carefully before returning to include:
- Registered nurse, doctor, or LPN
- Pharmacist or home health care aide providing medication to others
- Bartender or waitstaff serving drinks
- Bouncer, DJ, or entertainer at events where drugs and alcohol are present
8 Practical Tips to Help Balance Work and Recovery
Very often, you will talk through the challenges of returning to work as part of your relapse prevention plan before leaving sober living homes or facilities. Some of the tips and best practices learned from addiction treatment programs include:
- Have a sponsor or mentor available to talk through sudden cravings and unexpected stressors.
- Schedule support groups into your work day and keep your commitment to attend.
- Communicate with your employer about your recovery program requirements and take advantage of programs designed to support employees in recovery.
- Place a visual token of your sobriety goals or motivating picture in your workspace as a reminder of what you are working toward.
- Improve your resistance to stress by eating well, exercising, and sleeping on a regular schedule.
- Have a plan to take a 10-minute walk or coffee break in response to rising stress levels or unexpected cravings, where you can remove yourself from triggers and regain balance.
- Practice leaving thoughts and emotions from work behind when you leave or clock out and turn off work cell phones and email to focus on family or “me” time.
- Develop a supportive community and participate in work or social events that do not involve drugs or alcohol.
Employer-Sponsored Programs that Can Help
Most large companies and many forward-thinking small businesses offer programs that can help you recover from addiction and support your return to work. While you might feel some reluctance to seek help from your employer, there are resources available that can be hugely beneficial to your career future.
If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program, you may be eligible for help with the transition back to work after recovery. EAPs are confidential, federally mandated programs that offer mental health, substance abuse, family counseling services, and many other programs which help employees and their families stay healthy and weather crises.
To take advantage of provided EAP services, look for the phone number in your employee handbook, posted in the lunchroom or break rooms, or ask your human resources personnel. Starting the process is as simple as making that phone call and asking for help.
Finding Fulfillment Through Sober Living and Strength of Purpose
Returning to work and restoring structure and security is an important step on the path to healing. It is part of a comprehensive plan toward creating a sense of wholeness and strength of purpose to move forward without drugs or alcohol.
By providing guidance, supervision, and sober living programs for our Delray Beach, FL residents, the RECO Institute can help you or your loved one achieve sobriety step by step. Focusing on treating all aspects of addiction, our compassionate staff members prepare our residents with job skills, relationship coaching, and mentoring based on real-life experience and evidence-based therapies.
With this solid foundation under your feet, you can confidently step back into the workforce and achieve more than you thought possible. RECO’s sober living homes are waiting to provide you a safe place to become fully yourself. Contact us today to learn more without obligation.