The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that steady work/employment – a.k.a. having a job – is a primary indicator that a person in recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) will complete treatment and achieve stable, long-term recovery.
If you’re in recovery, or just completed a formal treatment program, we understand you’re on a mission: you want to improve your life. You most likely want stability and consistency. You want to live in a manner that’s nothing like the time you spent in active addiction, which may have been chaotic, painful, and dominated by negative emotions and counterproductive behavior.
That’s one reason having a job is key: it creates tangible value in your life. That doesn’t necessarily mean money, although having money is an important outcome of employment. Additional benefits of having a job for a person in recovery are varied and can play a pivotal role in the overall recovery process.
Five Benefits of Having a Job for People in Recovery
1. Increased Self-Esteem.
The process of seeking and finding employment can be a reward in itself: you prove to yourself and the world that you’re back, you’re ready, and you’re fully capable of participating in all aspects of daily life, including work.
2. More Social Connection
When you’re in treatment or immediately after treatment, it’s possible the only people you know are other people in treatment. This is good, in that you have camaraderie with recovery peers, but it can also be tiring. If you’re in a good place in your recovery, sometimes you simply want to get on with life, which is not always easy when everywhere you look, the only people you see are in recovery. Don’t take this the wrong way: your recovery is your main priority, of course. But you also want to meet and interact with people who aren’t in recovery, and don’t know you are.
For many people, having a job is the first step toward full independence. When you get to a place where you can manage your life without material assistance from others, and provide the essentials for yourself – like food, shelter, and transportation – then that independence is empowering, and helps you realize you can achieve your goals, no matter how lofty they are.
This is crucial to a successful recovery. When you have a steady job, and can pay for your rent, utilities, food, and meet all your basic needs, you create conditions that promote recovery. Constant worry about basic needs is stressful and frustrating: when you eliminate that chronic, low-grade stress, you decrease your chance of relapse and increase your chance meeting and exceeding all your recovery goals.
5. Recovery Friendly/Recovery Promoting
Okay – we all know work can be stressful, and not all jobs are perfect. However, with that qualification, we have to point out that work itself is a recovery friendly activity. It adds structure to your days – recovery friendly. It helps you stay independent – recovery friendly. A job gives you a sense of purpose – recovery friendly. Finally, it reminds you that you’re a productive and responsible member of society, which is both recovery friendly and recovery promoting.
Those benefits all have one thing in common: they’re both an outcome of sustained recovery and an outcome of being employed. In that way, we can see that having a job and being in recovery are mutually beneficial: each supports the other, and success in one increases the likelihood of success in the other.
There’s one more thing we need to address before we offer our suggestions on how to find a job when you’re in recovery or just out of treatment: the fear of stigma and discrimination based on your substance use and/or treatment history.
Spoiler alert: the law is on your side.
In Recovery: Legal Protections for People with Substance Use Disorder
The University of Southern California (UCLA) provides an excellent resource on this topic on their page “Back On Track: Employment During Recovery,” which explains that federal civil rights law protects people from discrimination in any form, including workplace and employment discrimination against people with disabilities.
The federal government defines a disability as “…a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This language protects people from being discriminated against for a history of substance use disorder (SUD), alcohol use disorder (AUD), or any type of medical condition.
Laws Protecting People With Medical Disability
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- The Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIA)
With all of that said, it’s vital to understand that – depending on location and state laws – employers do have the right to test applicants for the presence of illegal substances. Employers can legally remove applicants who test positive for illegal/illicit substances from consideration. Keep that in mind as you search for a job: check to see if the potential employer requires a drug test, and ensure you’ll pass before you take it.
In addition, laws prevent potential employers from inquiring about applicants’ history of substance use disorder/alcohol use disorder (SUD/AUD) diagnosis, and from inquiring about applicants’ history of alcohol or substance use treatment. However, we advise complete transparency if, for some reason, the topic arises. It’s better to be open and honest in the present than to be dishonest, and have your employer find out later. And, if it comes up, you can use your recovery experience to your advantage, as an example of your resilience and strength.
However, bottom line: if they don’t ask, there’s no need to volunteer that free information. Your takeaway from this section of this article is that no employer can keep a job from you because of your alcohol/substance use or alcohol/substance treatment history, but in many states, employers can disqualify you based on a failed drug test.
The Job Search: What to Think About During Recovery or After Treatment
At this point, we’ll assume you made the decision to find a job. You may still be in residential treatment or at some other level of care, like partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or a standard outpatient program. The suggestions we make below can help you achieve your goals whether you’re still in treatment or not. Also, if you’re early in a residential program, it’s not too early to think about what happens next. You can read this material, and file it away for when you’re ready to use it, or use it right away, starting today.
How to Find a Job During Recovery or Treatment
1. Believe in Yourself
This is the first and most important thing to remember. This is beyond fake it til you make it. You made the difficult choice to enter treatment, and achieved sustainable recovery. That’s an amazing accomplishment and a testament to your inner strength. If you can do that, then you should realize that you have the potential to do anything you put your mind to, including finding a job. It may be difficult, because you’re completely rebuilding your life. Everything may feel new and unfamiliar, but that’s okay: embrace the new you with the confidence you can succeed and build a fulfilling life based on your vision of health and happiness.
2. Utilize Resources
External job resources are plentiful. You may receive advice to use standard job search services/websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, or ZipRecruiter. However, we suggest going in a different direction first: employment assistance programs sponsored by federal, state, and local governments. Consult these resources:
- The United States Department of Labor (DOL) hosts a helpful One Stop Career Center with valuable information on career opportunities, job training and ongoing education, searching for a job, and connections to state and local agencies.
- The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) provides focused resources for a wide variety of employment-related topics. It’s a general clearinghouse for all federal employment-related assistance.
- American Job Centers provides a city, state, and ZIP code search tool that connects job seekers with one of over 2,300 federally funded job centers nationwide.
- The Adult and Dislocated Worker Program provides resources for people recently laid off, or facing imminent layoff. In the language of the DOL, the phrase word dislocated worker refers to a person who’s unemployed for reasons beyond their control, such as corporate restructuring or other circumstances.
- The Indian and Native American Jobs Program provides resources to help tribes and tribal organizations provide career opportunities, vocational assistance, and vocational training programs to underserved Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian demographic groups.
- JobCorps is a federal program for people age 16-24 complete their high school education, train for jobs, and obtain employment. JobCorps participants have access to room and board during job training. In addition, JobCorps helps participants with support services including housing, transportation, and childcare. Current training programs include advance manufacturing, car repair, construction, business/finance, healthcare, information technology, homeland security, transportation, and renewable energy.
We strongly encourage young people in recovery to consider JobCorps.
- The National Farmworkers Program offers career services, training services, educational services, and housing services designed to improve the economic/financial circumstances of seasonal agriculture workers. The program also helps, seasonal, transient workers transition to more stable jobs in other areas of employment.
- National H.I.R.E Network helps people with criminal records – including felony convictions – reenter the workforce through various programs and initiatives, with a focus on justice, fairness, and equal opportunity.
- Reentry Employment Opportunities Program (REO) offers resources for formerly incarcerated youth and young adults.
- YouthBuild provides vocational training, education, and job opportunities for people between ages 16-24 who left school without obtaining a diploma.
3. Start With Your Personal Network
We put the list of resources above first to make demonstrate the fact that even if you feel alone and have very few personal contacts, there are resources available to you. Those resources are both valuable and effective, but we all know word-of-mouth is the fastest and easiest way to find job opportunities and secure employment. If you’re currently in treatment – at any level of care – you can ask for assistance from:
- Peer support specialists at your treatment center
- Case managers at your treatment centers
- Peers in treatment with you
The old adage “it’s who you know” rings true. We’ll add a corollary to that: you don’t know who you know until you ask them. Make sense? That person sitting next to you in group? They might be your best connection – but you’ll never know unless you ask. If you’re unsure how to ask, start with the basics:
“I’m looking for a job. Does anyone have any good leads?”
Like we say above, you won’t know unless you ask, and asking is like knocking on a door: it’s often the first step in getting from the place you are to the place you want to be.
4. Expect Ups and Downs
The job search experience, in many cases, is a numbers game. You make a hundred inquiries, receive maybe 10 replies, and get two interviews – and you might not get the job. That’s simply the way things work. That’s close to a worst-case scenario, but it’s also par for the course. Without putting a damper on the whole idea, we want to prepare you for the fact that you’ll probably get rejected more than you get hired. That sounds obvious, and almost silly to say, but you need to remember that looking for a job can be time-consuming and frustrating – and you need to be prepared to handle disappointment. A viable short-term option, while you look for a career-path job, is to seek temporary positions through a temp agency, or part-time gig work.
5. Consider a Job in Treatment/Recovery
When you complete a treatment program, you may not realize the act of completing your program is an item you can put on your resume – especially if you want to seek employment in treatment and recovery. If you’ve never considered a job in recovery, we encourage you to consider it. Why? If you’re in treatment, or completed treatment, you’re now a subject matter expert – and you can use your new knowledge to help others on their recovery journeys. For a detailed look at how to find a job in recovery, please navigate to the blog section of our website and read this article:
Potential jobs in recovery that don’t require specialized degrees include: peer support specialist, behavioral health technician, maintenance worker, overnight monitor, recovery housing monitor. Potential jobs in recovery that require specialized training include: counselor/therapist, case manager, nurse, or administrative leader.
Why Find a Job? The Benefits
Yes, if you can, you want to find a job with full benefits: insurance, retirement, sick time, paid leave, the works.
But those aren’t the benefits we’ll close this article with.
Here’s what we mean.
Compared to people in recovery without a job, people in recovery with a job show:
- Decreased drug and alcohol use
- Lower relapse rates
- Improvement in family and social functioning
- Improvement in interpersonal relationships
- A smoother transition from formal treatment to independent living
That last point is your goal: to live a full, independent life, without the negative emotions and patterns of behavior associated with addiction. If you’re in treatment/recovery from disordered alcohol or drug use, you’ve taken the first step. Now you can take the next step and begin to live the life you choose for yourself, on your terms: that’s what getting a job is all about.