Should You Tell Your Boss You’re in Recovery?

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

Table of Contents

Recovery is a deeply personal journey that can unexpectedly intersect with our professional lives.

One such intersection is deciding whether to disclose recovery status to an employer.

In this article, we’ll discuss whether or not it’s wise to inform your boss that you’re in addiction recovery.

Before making such a disclosure, we’ll cover the potential advantages, risks, and important factors.

 

 

Around 46 million Americans are estimated to struggle with a substance use disorder.

Research-based on NSDUH data from 2012-2018 indicates that approximately 1 in 11 American workers had a substance use disorder during the previous year.

Additionally, national data shows that roughly 70% (which equates to around 13.6 million workers) of all adults with an alcohol or illicit drug use disorder are employed.

On a positive note, a national survey conducted by SAMHSA indicates that 72.2% of adults who have experienced substance use problems are recovering or in recovery.

The statistics emphasize the need for workplace assistance and rehabilitation programs to address the problems related to substance abuse in the American workforce.

It is important to have an open dialogue and provide support in the workplace, as it is highly likely that someone in recovery is part of any given workplace, even if they have not disclosed it publicly.

 

Understanding Addiction Recovery

Recovering from addiction is a complex and personal process where an individual strives to regain control of their life from substance misuse or addictive behaviors.

This journey typically involves several stages, including detoxification, therapy or counseling, ongoing management of recovery through various programs like 12-step or sober living environments, and mental health treatment.

Individuals in recovery face numerous challenges, including physical health issues resulting from their addiction, mental health struggles like depression or anxiety, social isolation, and the daily struggle to maintain sobriety despite triggers and cravings.

These challenges can also impact their professional life, affecting their ability to concentrate, be punctual, maintain interpersonal relationships, and perform their job.

Sometimes, individuals may require specific accommodations, such as a flexible schedule for therapy or counseling appointments.

Moreover, hiding their recovery status can be stressful, and disclosing this information might be an important step in their professional and recovery journey.

 

Legal Rights of Employees in Recovery or Legal Protections and Rights

In the United States, Substance Use Disorder is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.1

These laws recognize substance use disorders as impairments that can limit major life activities and classify them as disabilities.

Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees or job applicants with a history of substance use disorder as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs and can perform their duties.

These laws also apply to individuals who are perceived to have a substance use disorder, even if they don’t.

The goal of recognizing substance use disorder as a disability is to eliminate barriers to employment, education, and other essential aspects of life for those struggling with this health challenge.

However, it’s important to note that these laws do not protect active illegal drug use, and employers can still maintain drug-free workplaces.

Employees who are in recovery may be eligible for “reasonable accommodations” to support their ongoing treatment or sobriety as long as these accommodations do not cause an undue burden on the employer.

Knowing these legal rights is important when deciding whether to disclose one’s recovery status.

 

Assessing Your Workplace Culture

Before you decide to share your recovery status, it’s important to assess your workplace culture.

This involves understanding your organization’s attitudes toward mental health and addiction.

You can observe this through various indicators like the company’s policies, leadership communication, employee programs, and overall attitudes.

For instance, an organization that encourages open dialogue about mental health offers workshops or awareness programs on the topic, and provides employee assistance programs is likely more supportive of individuals dealing with such issues.

You may also want to seek guidance from your Human Resources department or employee assistance programs if they are available.

These resources can provide insight into your rights and the company’s history of handling similar situations.

Lastly, weighing potential consequences based on the company’s policies and history is crucial.

If there have been instances of discrimination or adverse actions towards employees dealing with similar issues, this could indicate potential risks.

Considering these factors, you can make an informed decision about whether or not disclosing your recovery status will benefit or harm your specific workplace environment.

 

Recovery-Friendly Policies in the Workplace

Many forward-thinking organizations are adopting “recovery-friendly” policies to support the well-being of employees who are recovering from substance use disorders.2

These policies show understanding and acceptance while providing necessary assistance throughout recovery.

Some policies include flexible work schedules to accommodate therapy or support group meetings, confidential employee assistance programs, and health insurance covering addiction treatment.

They may also promote mental health awareness and training to reduce stigma and misinformation about addiction recovery.

By creating a safe environment for employees to share their recovery status, these policies can help increase job satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Furthermore, they demonstrate the company’s dedication to the well-being of its employees, which fosters a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture that allows those in recovery to thrive professionally while managing their personal health challenges.

 

 

Potential Benefits of Disclosing Recovery Status

Sharing your recovery status at work can have various benefits depending on your workplace’s context and culture.

One advantage is receiving better understanding and support from management, leading to a more empathetic relationship with your supervisors.

Another benefit is the possibility of flexible work arrangements and accommodations if your recovery requires therapy sessions, support group meetings, or adjustments to your schedule.

Disclosing your status can also contribute to an open and inclusive workplace culture, reducing stigma around addiction and recovery, inspiring others struggling privately, and promoting a culture of openness and support.

However, it’s crucial to consider the potential risks before deciding to disclose.

 

Potential Downsides of Disclosing Recovery Status

While sharing your recovery status with your employer may be beneficial, it’s important to consider the potential risks.

One risk is the perpetuation of stigma and misunderstandings about addiction recovery.3

Despite increased awareness about addiction as a medical condition, many misconceptions exist.

You may face judgment, negative stereotypes, or insensitive comments from colleagues or supervisors.

Another risk is the possibility of discrimination or biased treatment.

While laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act protect individuals in recovery from discrimination, enforcement can be difficult, and some employees might still face subtle bias or unequal treatment.

Finally, disclosure could negatively impact career progression or opportunities.

Some employers may unfairly perceive individuals in recovery as unreliable or unstable, which could limit opportunities for promotion or specific assignments.

When deciding whether to disclose your status, weighing these potential downsides against the benefits is important.

 

Alternatives to Full Disclosure

At work, you may choose to disclose your recovery status, but there are other options available to you that can provide support without drawing unwanted attention or bias.

You can seek support from friends, family, or support groups outside of work, which can offer emotional support, practical advice, and a safe space to talk about your challenges without worrying about negative professional repercussions.

You can also use confidential resources outside of work, such as therapists, counselors, or hotlines, which can provide professional guidance and support, and advice on handling work-related challenges related to your recovery.

It’s crucial to balance the need for privacy with self-care and recovery.

While maintaining privacy can help you avoid stigma or discrimination, it’s also important to prioritize your self-care and recovery needs.

If you require workplace accommodations for your recovery, you might be able to discuss your needs with your employer without revealing the specifics of your situation.

Ultimately, the decision to disclose your recovery status or not should be based on your personal comfort, support needs, and the context of your workplace.

Remember that everyone’s journey is unique.

 

How to Disclose Recovery Status Professionally

When deciding to share your recovery status, handling it professionally is important.

Start by choosing who to speak with.

Usually, it is best to talk to your direct supervisor or HR as they are equipped to handle this information and make necessary accommodations.

However, it is also important to consider your relationship and level of trust with these individuals.

Next, plan what to say and how much to disclose.

Remember that this is a professional setting, and you don’t have to share more information than necessary.

For example, you could mention that you have a health issue requiring regular appointments without disclosing details about addiction or recovery.

Finally, approach the conversation with professionalism and assertiveness.

This is about your employee rights and well-being, so it’s important to communicate clearly, calmly, and confidently.

Request accommodations as needed and discuss how they can be managed within your work responsibilities.

Remember, you are not required to disclose anything you are uncomfortable with, and you have the right to manage your recovery to best support your health and well-being.

 

Recovery Resources

If you’re on the path to addiction recovery, many resources are available to help you.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a variety of resources, including a national helpline (1-800-662-HELP) for treatment referral and information.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also provides extensive information on different types of treatment and how to access it.

Consider checking out platforms like Sober Nation and In The Rooms for virtual support group meetings and recovery resources.

Additionally, local resources like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings can provide valuable community support.

 

 

Deciding whether or not to disclose personal information related to recovery at work is a significant decision and requires careful contemplation of various factors.

These factors include workplace culture, legal rights, personal comfort, and the need for accommodations.

It is important to prioritize one’s health and well-being above all else and seek support in the most comfortable and beneficial ways.

With the right support and resources, individuals can continue on their path to recovery and thrive professionally.

Recovery is not solely about overcoming addiction but also about building a new and fulfilling life.

The workplace can play a significant role in this journey.

Remember that you are not alone, and the future is endless.

Stay strong and continue to prioritize your health and well-being.

 

If you or someone you care about is dealing with addiction, we ask you to contact us at Cornerstone Healing Center located in Scottsdale, AZ. Our treatment center is grounded in evidence-based practices and focuses on addressing the root causes of addiction to achieve lasting recovery.

 

SOURCES

[1] The Americans With Disabilities Act, Addiction, and Recovery for State and Local Governments

[2] Initiatives to Prevent Opioid Misuse and Promote Recovery Friendly Workplace Programs

[3] Stigma and Discrimination

Published: 8/8/2023

Contributor: Julie Miller

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julie miller recovery writer and author

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
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Clinical Reviewer

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach.

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