Stigma in the Workplace Pt. 2

Stigma in the Workplace Pt. 2 1

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Bill Clinton

While putting a life back together after alcohol and drugs have torn it apart, inevitably part of the equation at some point will entail returning to the workplace. An article from written by Brian Hughes states,
“Returning to work is a critical part of recovery for many former addicts. Work provides a structured routine, stimulates the mind, and offers opportunities for socialization and positive interactions in a safe, supportive and controlled environment. You are not alone.” Here are some great tips for both the employee and the employer entailed.

There are two sides to this equation, employer, and employee. Social reintegration is a team sport. Everybody has their part.


There are many things that employers can do to help addicts and alcoholics in recovery to reenter the workforce. The main one is to believe in second chances and hire. Stigma closes many doors. Understanding, education, and compassion can reopen them. Why would an employer want to do this? Simple. Those in recovery have more to prove than the average person. Often those stricken with the disease of addiction are highly talented, fiercely loyal and high performers assuming they are on the upswing. Secondly, providing a safe, protective work environment through confidentiality. The choice of transparency is that of the employee, not the employer. Each scenario is different and whether to disclose or not should be chosen with discretion.

Combining employee assistive programs with other in-house support has produced both just and profitable results. Psychology Today writes, “As chronic medical conditions, it is important also that organizations combine screening and detection programs with resource and assistance programs to help employees with substance use disorders find the treatment and supports needed to stay in remission.” Employers can make money by helping their employees. “Treatment for addiction, facilitated within or by the workplace, has been shown to be successful (link is external) in increasing employee legal, mental and social functioning, as well as decreasing absenteeism rates, workplace conflict, and productivity problems upon return from treatment. Investing in employee treatment yields high returns, with an estimated gain of 23 percent among employees with an income of at least $45,000 per year or an estimated gain of 64 percent for employees earning at least $60,000 per year.”


On the side of the newly recovering addict returning to work, there is much to be done. The most important thing is to show up. I remember being in early and wanting a standing ovation for being on time with pants on. It turns out everyone does that. Here are some other tips:

1) Be on time:
Reliability is vital to employers. It’s not something we do well when in active addiction.

2) Work when at work:
Staying focused on the task at hand increases productivity. Productivity increases value. A high value can ensure a better chance of job security.

3) Go the extra mile:
Doing more than paid for makes a person very promotable. Removing obstacles of our supervisors and if we are ahead of our work usually gathers excellent results and creates an enjoyable work environment.

4) Keep personal life out of work:
Employers pay us to help them hit their goals, not case manage the results of our disease. Use your sober supports, clinicians and sponsor for that.

5) Be Professional:
Every office environment has different standards. Learn and abide by them. We are used to standing out, which is fine. Just make sure it’s within boundaries.

6) Stay humble:
Our early recovery jobs may not be our first career choice. That’s fine. Getting there will be a process. Honor the process. Our real job is to recover.

Here is an excellent story of how we can achieve these goals together.