Restarting a Career After Addiction Treatment

Man restarting his career

Many individuals leave work to enter into treatment each year. After treatment, they are expected to return to work and not much may have changed in their employment. The same expectations, stress, and work environment still remain.

Often times these reasons are why individuals began to drink in the first place. It may be difficult to return to ‘normal’ and the culture and triggers that originally went into treatment for in the first place. Coworkers may ask where they have been, or why you may not be attending after work happy hours or weekend drinking events.

A urban policy study at John Hopkins University in 2007 found when integrating drug treatment and employment services that a lack of job skills or employment opportunities can contribute to initial drug use, and individuals employed after treatment experience lower rates of relapse and criminal activity.

They also found that having a job often helps a recovering addict reintegrate into normal daily life and employment can have positive psychological and social effects on recovery [8]. The National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that effective treatment attends to the addict’s needs, including vocational.

What To Expect If Returning To Work

When returning to work you may here from colleagues the endless question of “where have you been?” How to handle this can be a difficult topic. You can decide to be honest about your absence, or offer an alternate explanation.

Each person has the right and privacy to respect their recovery. Being honest about your absence from work also means that many coworkers may judge your efforts or there may be rumors circulating around the office.

There hopefully will be others in the office who have also gone through recovery or have a family member or friend who have. These individuals can be powerful in your continued recovery.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, an individual is allowed to take medical leave without providing specific details, as long as they have been diagnosed by a professional [2]. You are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act when it comes to protection of information.

Changing Careers

If you are wanting to make a career change, one of the first things you need to do is update your resume or CV. There are many resume builder apps online or you can seek the help of a professional to help with getting your career back on track.

Woman sitting in the grass

You can decide what skills to add to your CV as well. Asking friends, and family what your best qualities are and how they can be transferred to employment skills. Part of rebuilding your resume or CV is deciding what description you would like to use for your treatment and gap in employment.

This can be personal and does not have to be shared, but it is good to talk it through with your treatment team, and trusted family and friends on what is best for you.

If you need to rebuild skills, it can mean re-enrolling for courses at a local college or university.

It can mean updating in technology or taking classes in subjects that interest you.

Adding these courses to your resume and/or CV as it shows employers that you have a continued interest in learning. Reaching our to prior employees and colleagues where you have a good rapport, can be a help when you are looking for a new job. They can offer support in companies that are hiring.

Tips When Rebuilding Your Career After Addiction

  1. Look for something in your field. Coming out of recovery you may feel a new lease on life and want to make major changes. When wanting to restart your career, working on healing can be overwhelming. When utilizing a job within your own field can be helpful when balancing work and life.
  2. Find a job with reasonable expectations. Know it is alright to start small and keeping stress levels low is important when easing back into a career. Many individuals after treatment volunteer at first or an internship, if possible, to manage reentering into the workforce.
  3. Using work with structure and growth potential is important especially if you had an advanced career prior to entering treatment. Some of the best jobs after treatment are those that are in offices that provide structure and performance reviews, with the possibility of advancement and raises, can help you feel like you have small but achievable goals.
  4. Look for work options that help with recovery is also an option. There are some jobs that should be avoided such as working with alcohol or other temptations. For some a career change may be best.
  5. Some individuals start their own career in motivational speaking or helping others in recovery after treatment.  It can mean more freedom, but can be a higher level of stress than a more traditional job.

Individuals in recovery can offer a great deal in the workplace. They have traditional skills of previous jobs and roles. Recovering addicts are less likely than others to take time off from work, more likely to be appreciative and trustworthy to those who give them a second chance, and very motivated because they see work as a way to regain and rebuild their life [4, 6].

How To Rebuild Your Career

Life after treatment can be overwhelming at first. It is relearning to live in sobriety and can be a full-time job. At some point, returning to work will be a part of your life that will need to be address. For some this may be quickly after discharge and for others they may have the ability to take time before returning to work.

First, take time to decide what you want to achieve in your career. Take time to write down your career path with your treatment team and know that it may mean changes along the way.

It may be easier to advance in a career that you already have then starting out new. If trying to decide on whether to keep a current job or start new, it is not one to rush into. Remembering that it can take time learn who you are outside of your addiction.

Looking into agencies that can help with returning to work are also beneficial. Practicing coping skills to manage stress and continuing with outpatient treatment is helpful for workplace stress and triggers. Lastly, building a positive and healthy support system is part of rebuilding your career after addiction.

Policies for Rebuilding Your Career

The SAMHA has an online resource for those returning to employment after an addiction [8]. Various laws are in place to protect working individuals such as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

Woman near the water

These laws protect individuals with any disability or substantial limits to include work and self care. Some are case by case but addiction is recognized as a disability for many individuals.

Attorneys and civil rights organizations can assist recovering addicts who may experience discrimination. Under Federal civil rights laws, most recovering addicts are protected from discrimination in the workplace and employment.

In conclusion, career is defined as a course of progress through life [5]. It can be something to make money or a series of connected jobs that bring improved opportunities. Some individuals after recovery will return to a career they feel satisfied with, yet others may not feel happy or challenged by their current profession.

Having a career path can be helpful in deciding if you want to change professions. A career path can increase the success of finding employment, look better on a resume or CV if there are logical reasons for changes in employment, and setting goals for how to get to where you would like to be.

It is recommended that individuals do not make any major changes, if can be helped, in the first year of recovery. There will be much to focus on and prioritize when coming out of addiction treatment. It can take time to get to know who you are and what you really want out of life outside of an addiction.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published May 16, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 6, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.