Back to Work After Drug Rehab
If you’ve either taken time off work to go to treatment or are moving back into the workforce for the first time after a longer period of unemployment, it can be challenging.
Workplaces are stressful, often demand that we invest a considerable amount of time in something that we might not care about, and expose us to people, emotions, commute, and even substances. That’s especially true if you’re going back to a workplace where you used before or if you habitually used drugs or alcohol to cope with your job in the past.
Going back to work is intimidating. However, you can manage and you can go back to work after drug rehab while continuing to take care of yourself and to maintain your sobriety.
Go to Therapy
Most modern rehab treatment includes considerable aftercare and ongoing counseling and therapy – whether via one-on-one sessions, by connecting you to another therapist, or by telehealth. It’s important that you continue to invest in that treatment and self-care, especially as you move back into the workplace. Likely, you’ll need ongoing therapy as well as a self-help or support group like AA, NA, LifeRing, or SMART.
If you’re very worried, you might also want to opt into staying in a sober house in the interim. These “halfway houses” provide an intermediate environment, in which you’ll have support and accountability, social meals, and people to share with as you move back into the workplace.
Managing stress is one of the most important steps to having a healthy and balanced life. While that can be difficult in a modern world, you can do it. Often, managing stress means taking care of yourself, taking care of your environment, and learning when to say no. For example, you might opt to take up a meditative practice, but it won’t do too much if you’re constantly stressed by other things in your environment. You need a holistic approach that starts with your basic life structure and extends to your job.
What does that mean?
Eat Well – Good nutrition helps you to maintain energy, improve health over time, avoid mood swings, avoid energy crashes, and even feel happier. Many people entering rehab actually struggle with nutritional deficiencies, so ensuring you eat well on average will also work to correct long-term feelings of being sick or feeling down – because nutritional deficiencies can have very similar symptoms to mental health disorders. Here, you don’t have to be perfect. Just try to make sure you eat a varied diet, eat enough fruit and vegetables, and meal-prep or buy healthy meals if you don’t have energy to cook when you get home.
Get Enough Sleep – Most people need anywhere from 6-10 hours of sleep in a day. Most of us have a good idea of how much sleep it takes to wake up feeling good. Often, building a consistent sleeping schedule, where you go to bed and wake up at about the same times every day will make it easier to consistently get the sleep you need to have energy and to avoid stress.
Exercise – 30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise a day will reduce stress, improve your mood, and boost energy levels. That might be a walk at work during lunch, it might be biking to work, it might be playing sports with friends or going to the gym after work. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and that you can maintain because you’ll have to. Doing too much can cause you to crash so it’s also important to be careful here.
Avoid Caffeine and Sugar – We often go back to the workplace and then use caffeine and sugar to sustain energy levels throughout the day. That can be damaging, not just to your energy and stress levels but also to your sobriety. Why? Caffeine and sugar can react in the body in similar ways to other substances, you might find yourself leaning on either or both in the same way that you would have on drugs or alcohol. And, that will eventually lead back to relapse. Of course, neither are bad in moderation, you just shouldn’t be using either to get through your day.
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Get Your Questions Answered
It’s important that you have good work boundaries. That will sometimes mean choosing a workplace that offers support for having mental health problems, for not drinking, and for having problems that mean you sometimes have to stay home. Good boundaries mean:
- Saying no when asked to work overtime or to do something that would cut into your energy or stress levels. Having time to yourself and time to enjoy living are important
- Being able to stand up for yourself, to handle interpersonal disputes professionally, and to ask for help if there is conflict in the workplace, even with a superior
- Being able to say no to drinking and to attending events in which alcohol is present
It may also be a good idea to discuss your former drug or alcohol use problem with your colleagues so that you can ask for assistance around that. People may be very willing to contribute and to help, to avoid alcohol around you, etc., but they can’t do that if they don’t know.
Take Steps to Accommodate Living Well
You should never have to hate your job. You should never have to dread any part of your day. While sometimes it’s unavoidable, such as if you’re in a very temporary position, you should never aim to force yourself to endure something awful every day. You can always look at which parts of your day that are difficult and work to improve them. Sometimes that will mean changing your work, changing the type of work you do, or even working less. In other cases, you can make simpler changes like looking for a better commute, changing how you commute, or moving closer to work (or getting a job closer to your house).
Similarly, you can look at any part of your day and take the same approach. Do you hate getting ready in the morning? Do most of the work the day before. Do you hate commute? Look for a job that allows you to work from home most days. Is cooking a stress factor? Meal prep or order food in bulk. If you can creatively look for solutions, you can improve specific factors you’re stressed about.
Of course, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you will just have difficulty with everything because of a mental health disorder. Sometimes you’ll be stuck in a situation because of money. The important thing is that you take steps to make your current situation as good as possible so you can cope with it.
Going back to work after an addiction can be challenging. You’ll have to reintegrate into the workplace, you’ll have to handle stress and commute, and you’ll have to manage your colleagues. That will mean getting to know people (again or for the first time), sometimes sharing your past, and investing in taking care of yourself and in managing stress and energy levels long-term.
Hopefully, you’ve learned most of this in rehab. However, knowing something and building long-term habits are extremely different things and taking the time to make those habits reality can be challenging. At the same time, they will help you to live and to enjoy life long-term. Good luck going back to work.