Hiring an Individual Recovering From Addiction

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Drug addiction has been an ongoing epidemic for several decades throughout the United States. About 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, and overdoses have tripled in the last 30 years. [1]USCCR (2000). Substance Abuse Under the ADA.Sharing the Dream: Is the ADA Accommodating All? Chapter 4. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.usccr.gov/files/pubs/ada/ch4.htm Should individuals struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction achieve recovery, seeking new employment is often one of the most important steps to maintaining that recovery long-term.

Legal Implications

It is important to remember that individuals are not legally obligated to disclose their history of substance use and recovery with you, their potential employer. Even after the hiring process is complete, employees are not required to share their experiences with addiction. However, if a well-qualified applicant does choose to disclose that they are in recovery, you must consider their protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

An active, casual drug user or person in active drug addiction is not protected from termination or other employer action related to their drug use under the ADA, as drug use is not considered a legally debilitating condition. However, those in recovery are afforded some protections. Formerly addicted individuals who are in recovery and have either ceased their use of drugs or are engaged in a rehabilitation program may not be denied the opportunity for employment due to their condition. While you cannot ask potential employees whether they are in recovery, if someone chooses to disclose this process to you, the EEOC states that you must consider them on an equivalent basis with your other qualified applicants. [2]NCDAS (2022). Drug Abuse Statistics.National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Retrieved April 9, 2022, from https://drugabusestatistics.org/

The decision to hire someone in recovery into your company can be life-changing for them and beneficial for your organization. Read on to learn more about addiction (also known as substance use disorder, or SUD), recovery, and the implications of hiring a recovering individual.

Why Is Employment Important?

Since using drugs creates a strong dependency on the abused substance, along with physical withdrawal symptoms, recovery is not as easy as it is often deemed. Many individuals wish to recover but slip back into relapsing due to the neurological changes that have occurred in their brains. Finding meaningful activity to keep the brain engaged and away from thoughts of relapse is shown to be more productive for recovery than traditional therapy measures.

One of the most meaningful activities for a recovering individual is to be engaged in employment. However, only one in five people pursuing therapy for substance use disorder (SUD) are employed.[3]Black, C. M. (2016). An independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity. Department for Work and Pensions. Retrieved April, 9, 2022 from  … Continue reading

As a business owner, you may fear that hiring a recovering person would create a major risk factor or a risk related to building your reputation. What you might not be aware of are the numerous benefits steady employment can offer these individuals, as well as the companies they work for.

What Is It Like to Work With Someone in Recovery?

It would not be surprising if you as an employer have reservations about hiring someone recovering from SUD. Some of the concerns you may have could relate to the stigmas that exist around addicts in society or even potential HR issues. However, in much the same way that people who suffer mental health disorders or physical ailments should not be discriminated against, recovering individuals should not either. As long as the employee does not violate workplace policies regarding drugs and alcohol, meets all performance and conduct standards, and remains in recovery, they should pose little risk to your organization.

Before hiring a person recovering from SUD into your company, it is important to know how drug addiction works and to not solely focus on the stereotypes when thinking about what working with a person in recovery would be like. Consider the following truths.

Anyone Can Become Addicted

Anyone Can Become AddictedIt is first important to understand that, contrary to popular belief, drug addiction is not controllable. Addiction is often genetically influenced or propelled by environmental factors.  [4]Becton, A. B., Chen, R. K., & Paul, T. M. (2017). A second chance: Employers’ perspectives in hiring individuals in addiction recovery. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 48 (1), … Continue reading In addition, people who use addictive substances under the age of 18 are more likely to become addicted than those who try these substances when they are older, but ultimately anyone can become dependent on a substance. They are not always the scary, dangerous addicts that the media often depicts them to be. They are husbands, wives, sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers. They have dreams and ambitions like everyone else and do not want to be seen as criminals just because of their illness.

Withdrawal Can Be Insufferable

Unlike trying to cut down on sugar or carbohydrates, withdrawal is much more intense than a craving. The body of an individual suffering from SUD becomes so used to the effects of the substance that without it, they can become extremely physically ill. They may feel intense physical symptoms similar to a horrible flu, hallucinations, or fits of psychosis. Although these physical symptoms should dissipate within a week, those experiencing addiction can experience post-withdrawal symptoms months after, which can consist of depression, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and irritability.

This is not an easy process for anyone, no matter what their addiction may be. It is important for you to understand the physical and mental ailments recovering addicts may endure within the workplace so that you can better understand what could potentially be going on with them. This is not something anyone suffering from addiction wants to endure, but this complicated process is necessary if they want to fully recover.

Recovering Individuals May Have Triggers

Before hiring a recovering individual, it is important to realize that they may have triggers that could lead them to relapse. Although they should not be treated as damaged or incapable, it is also pivotal to bear in mind how their behaviors might shift if they encounter one of these triggers.

Triggers are not always as obvious as someone talking about having a beer on Friday night — they can be social, emotional, and environmental. [5]NIDA. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved April 9, 2022 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction  Subtle things such as a stressful day at work, paraphernalia, certain locations, specific people, music/movies, and a plethora of others could all be triggers.

These triggers can be some of the biggest challenges for recovering individuals as they navigate back into working.

The Benefits of Hiring Someone in Recovery

If you are considering hiring someone in recovery, you should understand the complexities of their recovery process as well as the benefits that employment can have in their recovery.

The following is a list of reasons to hire someone in recovery:

You’re Providing an Expanded Social Circle

Often, due to discrimination and the stigma that exists for recovering individuals finding mentors, or people who are non-drug users, to motivate them to fight their addiction is challenging, but vital for successful recovery. [6]Laudet A. B. (2012). Rate and predictors of employment among formerly polysubstance dependent urban individuals in recovery. Journal of addictive diseases, 31 (3), 288–302. … Continue reading It is common for a person in recovery to battle with losing contact with friends and family members due to their addiction.

Many people suffering from addiction may find that they have very few people left in their social circle who are not also users. Since being friends solely with other addicted individuals can create a greater risk of relapse, having the ability to meet others through employment can give individuals in recovery an increased sense of hope. Non-users can even act as mentors for those struggling with addiction as they begin to see a different life path to root for, helping them feel less stuck in the repetitive cycle of relapse.

Gaining Support from Managers Increases Mental Health

Managers Can Help Support Mental Health
 
If recovering individuals feel as if they are being supported by their managers and staff, they will experience an increase in self-esteem, and higher self-esteem is linked to better mental health. Considering many addictions are co-occurring with depression and anxiety, it is important for these individuals to begin to see value in their lives and the things they are doing to improve themselves.

Working often helps recovering individuals achieve progress therapy cannot because it gives them a purpose or an ability to try to show off their skills. You as an employer can play a big part in your employee’s mental health simply by being a good role model, displaying kindness, and listening to these struggling individuals.

Employment Increases Financial Independence

Without employment, it is harder for people recovering from SUD to establish a sense of independence or a will to continue therapy. Oftentimes, these individuals are dependent on family members or government aid for financial support, leading to a decreased self-esteem, thus a greater chance of relapsing. Having employment gives people a purpose and something to work towards. As they begin to develop more financial independence, they will experience an increase in self-esteem. [7]Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2021). Substance Use Disorders Recovery with a Focus on Employment and Education. HHS Publication No. PEP21-PL-Guide-6. Retrieved April 9, … Continue reading

Recovering Individuals Can Be Some of the Strongest, Most Capable People

Despite battling an addiction, you should not undermine the power it takes to seek help and therapy for an illness. Many people who suffer from addiction never seek help, therefore a recovering individual who is looking to work has already made the difficult strides to get clean. They could be the strongest employee you could hire. These individuals have navigated battles with withdrawal and the pain associated with it. They have made it as far as seeking employment and are often ready to change their lives.

Many recovering individuals will prove to be the hardest workers you can employ, because they understand what they have to lose and are avidly working to make their lives better. You may be taking a chance, but it could be one that not only changes the life of a recovering individual but also grants you a hardworking employee who is looking to make you proud.

Working Conditions Best Suited for People in Recovery

As previously mentioned, people recovering from SUD do best when they feel like they are doing something meaningful with their time. There are no specific jobs that they serve best in, however, it might be beneficial for you to keep in mind the following work conditions that may suit these individuals better:

A Reliable Schedule

Rapid schedule changes are not often beneficial for people in recovery. Since these potential employees may be going to counseling or therapy sessions every week, it is best if you can help them establish a routine in their schedule. This will help them gain a sense of grounding in their life and know what the next day will bring.

Stability

It is most beneficial for people in recovery to stick to skills that they know. However, sometimes this may not be possible due to work environments that may enable their drug use. In these cases, when you are hiring a recovering individual to a field of work that they have never worked in before, it is best that they are given consistent tasks every day and not tasks that change daily. This helps them know what to expect in a workday and build familiarity.

Close to Home

Long commutes can often be stressful and overwhelming for this type of worker. It is, therefore, best for you to consider how close/far away the potential worker is from the place of work.

Clarity

When you are allocating tasks to a recovering addict, it is best for you to be as clear as possible. These types of workers need to know exactly what is expected of them and should not be left to figure out tasks for themselves for this can induce a sense of pressure or stress that is not best suited for their recovery.

Supportive Environment

Recovering individuals need to feel supported by you and your employees so that there is room for them to grow in their work. Feeling like their workplace is another place where they are judged or outcasted will only decrease their working performance as well as their self-esteem to stay clean.

Are You Ready to Give a Recovering Individual a Chance to Impress?

Giving an Individual In Recovery A Chance
 
With the highest unemployment rates falling on people who have or have had an addiction, it is often a vicious cycle that is hard to escape from. You as an employer have a difficult choice to make when considering offering employment to a person recovering from SUD, but it is a decision that could ultimately end up changing someone’s life for the better. In addition, your choice will grant you an excellent employee who is willing to work hard to impress you.

Assuming the applicants are qualified, it is up to you whether or not you hire recovering addicts into your company. Once you do, you can feel confident that you are giving them an opportunity to change the future of their lives. If they truly want to start living a sober life and rebuild their reputation in the public eye, you have provided them with the chance to accomplish this.

For more information about hiring an individual who has disclosed addiction recovery, arrange a meeting with your HR representative, legal counsel, and a skilled consultant.

Sources:

Sources:
1 USCCR (2000). Substance Abuse Under the ADA.Sharing the Dream: Is the ADA Accommodating All? Chapter 4. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.usccr.gov/files/pubs/ada/ch4.htm
2 NCDAS (2022). Drug Abuse Statistics.National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Retrieved April 9, 2022, from https://drugabusestatistics.org/
3 Black, C. M. (2016). An independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity. Department for Work and Pensions. Retrieved April, 9, 2022 from http://affinityhealthhub.co.uk/d/attachments/employment-outcomes-of-drug-or-alcohol-addiction-and-obesity-1488560786.pdf
4 Becton, A. B., Chen, R. K., & Paul, T. M. (2017). A second chance: Employers’ perspectives in hiring individuals in addiction recovery. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 48 (1), 6-15. Retrieved April 9, 2022, from https://scholarworks.utrgv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=rhc_fac
5 NIDA. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved April 9, 2022 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
6 Laudet A. B. (2012). Rate and predictors of employment among formerly polysubstance dependent urban individuals in recovery. Journal of addictive diseases, 31 (3), 288–302. https://doi.org/10.1080/10550887.2012.694604
7 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2021). Substance Use Disorders Recovery with a Focus on Employment and Education. HHS Publication No. PEP21-PL-Guide-6. Retrieved April 9, 2022, from https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/pep21-pl-guide-6.pdf


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