Finding Employment In Recovery From Addiction: A Step-By-Step Guide

Article Contents

Finding Employment In Addiction Recovery

Article Contents

Drug and alcohol abuse can have far-reaching effects on all aspects of a person’s life, including a person’s employment and job prospects.

In the midst of an active struggle with addiction, people who misuse drugs or alcohol may struggle to hold a job. Seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse can also complicate this process. Taking the steps to re-enter the workforce after seeking substance abuse treatment in a rehab program is one of several challenges a person might face in early recovery. 

Finding gainful employment after completing a drug rehab program can be an intimidating process. For some, it can also be overwhelming, depending on your employment history, if you have a criminal record, and other personal factors. 

More than 23 million adults—or 10 percent of American adults in 2012—identified as being in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. Fear of stigma and concerns about the stress of new employment is common among adults in early recovery who are seeking to re-enter the workforce. You’re not alone.

In this step-by-step guide you’ll find:

  • suggested steps for finding employment after drug rehab
  • common challenges faced by people in early addiction recovery who are seeking work
  • recovery-based resources for finding gainful employment
  • considerations to keep in mind as you begin the job search process

Steps For Finding Employment After Rehab

If you’ve just completed a drug rehab program, one of your first goals in early recovery might be to find employment. While some people who enter an addiction treatment program have a job waiting for them afterward—this is not true for everyone. 

Re-entering the workforce in early recovery can offer meaning, purpose, and a powerful sense of accomplishment. That doesn’t mean that finding a job or managing the stress of employment in early recovery is easy, however. 

If you or a loved one is newly sober and looking for work, consider these suggested steps for finding gainful employment after an addiction rehab program:

1. Strengthen Your Resume

Before submitting any job applications, you might need to return to your resume to update your employment history or add new skills. A strong resume can be the foundation of a successful job application. 

Make sure your listed skills reflect your current skill-set. You might consider highlighting life skills you were able to cultivate in a treatment program. For instance, strong communication skills, a strong work ethic, and astute decision-making. 

Make sure your highest level of education is clearly shown, and that there aren’t any inaccurate gaps in your employment history. 

Ask a friend or family member to help you if you’re struggling to remember details about previous employment, or if you’re unsure where to start with your resume. Updating a resume can be a great time for self-reflection. 

During this process, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kinds of jobs do you want to apply for? 
  • Do you want to limit your job search for jobs you’re already qualified for, or do you want to open yourself up to new opportunities?
  • Do you feel confident in your ability to handle the initial stress of a job that might differ from your previous employment?
  • What are your main priorities in your job search?
    • Does the job listing outline clear guidelines for the responsibilities of the position?
    • What benefits does the job offer?
    • Does the job offer opportunities for growth?
    • Is the job flexible, or structured?
  • Where do you want to be in the next five to 10 years in your career? How can you make sure your job search reflects that vision?

If you’re having trouble creating a strong resume, consider checking out the many digital resources that are available for resume-building online. Local colleges, community centers, or universities near you may also offer assistance in resume-building and enhancing writing skills.

2. Look To Your Existing Network 

When it comes to searching for employment, who you know can be almost as important (if not more so) than what you know—that is, what your resume alone can tell a recruiter. 

Building new relationships and mending existing relationships is one of the hallmark steps in addiction recovery. You’ve likely developed connections with other people in recovery, counselors, and others involved in your addiction treatment. And believe it or not—these connections can be a useful asset for job searches.

Referrals from friends, former coworkers who can attest to your skills, and new connections you’ve developed throughout your treatment process may help you get your foot in the door for an interview or job offer. 

People in your life who understand where you are, where you’ve been, and your commitment towards contributing as a productive member of society may be able to connect you with job opportunities. They may also be able to serve as credible references. 

Your network may be larger than you think. Cast your net wide. If you’re living in recovery housing, ask the house manager if they’d be willing to attest to your trustworthiness as a reference. If you’re active in recovery support groups, or a 12-step group, ask your sponsor and other participants if they have suggestions on how to find employment.

3. Take Advantage Of Job-Searching Resources And Assistance

Looking to an existing network to help you find employment, or building a network, is only one resource that can be helpful in searching for a job. 

There are a number of job-searching resources and job-related assistance programs that exist to help people find gainful employment in early recovery from addiction. 

The National HIRE Network, for instance, can be an invaluable resource for people in early addiction recovery who have a criminal record. This program recognizes the many barriers and challenges people with a criminal record can face in the job-searching process. It works to expand available job opportunities for this population and advocate for policies that support their re-entry into the workforce.

Additional job-related resources and assistance programs for people in recovery from drug addiction include:

  • The Department of Labor One Stop Career Center
  • America in Recovery
  • Jobs for Felons Hub (job board)
  • Local unemployment offices or government job search assistance programs
  • Online job boards created by local and state health agencies
  • Springwire’s Community Voicemail service (for financially disadvantaged individuals who lack access to a cell phone)

These resources serve to: expand access to workforce training for people in recovery from substance misuse, increase job opportunities, and promote recovery-friendly policies in the workplace.

4. Check In With Yourself Often

Searching for employment can be a stressful process, even for people who aren’t in early recovery from drug addiction. Updating your resume, preparing for interviews, and returning to work can feel like a lot. During this time, it’s important to check in with yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Ask yourself: 

  • How is my stress level right now? 
  • Do I need to take a break for my mental health? 
  • Am I taking advantage of resources available to me? 
  • Am I placing too much pressure on myself to do this alone? 

Stress is a common trigger among people in recovery from addiction and those who struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Checking in with yourself regularly can help alleviate unnecessary stress and increase your own self-awareness of where you are emotionally and mentally.

Asking after your own well-being is a supportive strategy for addiction recovery—as is attending to your personal needs. 

Common Challenges Of Finding Employment In Early Recovery

Taking strides to re-enter the workforce after a stay in drug and alcohol rehab is not always easy. Substance abuse can radically change a person’s appearance, their motivations, and their general outlook on life. This is something that may be explored in counseling, but can still be difficult to grapple with in early recovery. 

Depending on a person’s health in early recovery, adults might face both mental and physical challenges in their initial searches for employment. Adults may also face institutional barriers. 

Common challenges faced by people searching for employment in early recovery include:

  • stigma surrounding addiction
  • concerns about discrimination
  • gaps in employment history
  • having a criminal record
  • lack of positive references
  • identifying what you’re looking for in employment 
  • access to transportation
  • balancing your job-searching/employment with ongoing treatment

According to the Legal Action Center, nearly 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals in the United States are unemployed a year post-release due to stigma related to their criminal record.  

Many organizations like the Legal Action Center work to break down institutional barriers that can make securing employment more difficult for people with a criminal record. Even among people without a criminal record, however, personal insecurities and stigma can be challenging to overcome. 

Looking within yourself and seeking support from a professional counselor, loved ones, and job assistance professionals can help you determine your next steps forward. 

Considerations For Seeking Employment In Early Recovery

There are several reasons why a person might choose to seek out new employment in early recovery from addiction. These reasons may be financial or personal. Not everyone begins the job-searching process with the same motivations or goals. 

Making Major Life Changes

One common recommendation for people in early sobriety is to refrain from making any major life changes in the first year. This may refer to changes in relationship status, moving, or beginning a new job. 

Of course, for many people, finding employment after drug rehab is not as much of an option as it is a necessity. Delaying major changes, including those related to employment, is not a luxury everyone can afford. People may need to pay bills and settle debts. Parents and other caretakers in recovery may have dependents to take care of. 

If you have the option to delay a return to work, consider speaking to a counselor about whether this would be a good choice for you. For many, returning to work can offer structure, distraction, and a sense of purpose. Volunteering with local community organizations may offer similar benefits.

Even still, searching for a job after getting out of a treatment center can be stressful. You may find yourself reckoning with former times in which your addiction had affected your relationships with bosses, coworkers, and your employment status. Maybe your substance abuse previously cost you a job and this has caused deeper insecurity about your capabilities.  

If you’re obligated to return to work after completing a substance abuse rehab program, lean on your support network to keep you strong. Reaching out to a counselor or a loved one in times of struggle is an act of strength. Don’t let the fear of what could happen hold you back.

Disclosing Your Addiction To Employers And Coworkers

Federal civil rights laws protect American workers from being discriminated against on the basis of having a disability, under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Mental health disorders, including substance disorders, are included under these protections.

Even still, having concerns about discrimination, or facing judgment from people in your workplace because of your substance use history is valid. Regardless of the legality, it’s possible that employers may still be prejudiced in their hiring practices.

Disclosing your addiction to a potential employer or new coworkers is a personal decision. It is also voluntary. However, some people may feel that it’s important to their recovery to be honest about their past. This may be especially true for people applying to work within the field of mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Preparing for the possibility of self-disclosure, or whether you’re willing to provide that information to an employer, is something you can discuss with a counselor. A substance use counselor can help walk you through all the possible scenarios of what could happen, and help you feel more confident in what information you do choose to share.

Be Patient With Yourself

Being patient with yourself, and showing yourself compassion during this process, is crucial. Rebuilding a life in recovery from addiction isn’t simple. It’s normal to feel insecure, scared, nervous, and unsure about how to return to employment without drugs or alcohol to fall back on if things get tough. 

Remember that you’ve made it this far. Becoming sober and maintaining your sobriety is a major accomplishment. You may find yourself in a position of having to look for a job that offers part-time hours in order to continue your treatment. Or, maybe that more flexible job you’ve been offered pays less than you’ve made in a previous position. 

You may have to work your way back up, or work from an entirely new slate. This is okay. Recovery is a process of progress, not perfection.

Continue Looking Forward In Your Recovery

After completing an addiction rehab program at a treatment facility, it can take time to ease back into a normal routine. This may be especially true for people who are in early recovery from chronic or severe addiction. 

Beginning this new ‘normal’ may feel awkward and overwhelming. At times, you may feel urged to return to old vices to manage feelings of depression and anxiety. This is not uncommon. Turn to your support network—whether that be a counselor, friends, others in recovery—to ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

Recovery is a lifelong journey that is going to have bumps and hurdles. Don’t lose sight of your goals. Take each step forward one day at a time. Ask for help, be patient with yourself, be proud of how far you’ve come—and have confidence in where you’re going.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Legal Action Center: National H.I.R.E Network - National H.I.R.E Network
The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) - Survey: Ten Percent of American Adults Report Being in Recovery from Substance Abuse or Addiction

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