Tips for Returning to Work After Addiction [Guide]

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April 19, 2019

Resumes and Potential Employers

If your road to long-lasting recovery has prepared you to take on a job during or after treatment, the feeling of a fresh start can be revitalizing and a little bit nerve-racking. In many ways, this may feel like you’re starting life over after losing everything. Thankfully, there are some proven methods of setting up the groundwork for a new employment venture that will help you put your best foot forward. A new job will bring a lot of positivity into your life, but also some everyday stressors that come with the territory. The most important thing to do before you take the first step towards finding, and eventually getting, a job is to set yourself up for possibilities that will come your way both physically and mentally.

For those in treatment and recovery, sometimes it’s not as easy as just filling out an application and getting a job. People with substance use disorders are bound to face certain barriers when seeking employment that can make the job search much more challenging. Thankfully, there are also many programs that help people in treatment and recovery, as well. Defining and honing your strengths will be an essential part of getting started. So, before you begin to fill out applications, take some time to organize yourself for all the challenges of reentering the workforce.

Preparing a Resume

The first step to the hiring process will be to put together a nicely formatted resume highlighting your skills and most positive attributes, as well as any work history you may have. While this sounds simple, many people will discover that this process is a bit daunting in the beginning due to negative thoughts and lurking pessimism. If you find yourself dealing with these kinds of ideas, the key is to remember that you are a strong person working doubly with your recovery and striving to create a better life for yourself. These are characteristics of somebody who deserves to be a member of the active workforce and would be a valuable asset to any workplace.

If you don’t have access to a computer to get your resume typed up, take advantage of your local public library or community center. You will also be spending some time researching job openings online, so become familiar with your resources and what’s available to you. While you are preparing to create your resume, also check out the vast variety of free resume templates that are available on various websites. Some sites will even help you put your resume together by just plugging in your information, so you don’t have to fuss over formatting. Employers look at a resume for an average of about one whole minute, so aesthetics play a role in making them take a second glance. While one resume should be enough to apply for various jobs, you also will want to create a stock cover letter that you can later customize for each job application you fill out. Take your time when creating this resume, have some friends or peers take a glance at it with feedback to help you make any potential improvements.

Once your resume is ready to go, you’ll want to create accounts with some job search engines like Monster, Glassdoor, Indeed, and even LinkedIn. Create your user profile carefully and as accurately as possible to make sure you’re giving enough information for potential employers to reach out to you, including an email address and phone number. The job market has never been bigger, which means that there are a lot of people vying for similar jobs. Set yourself apart with a unique first impression with a resume you’re genuinely proud of and if will also help build your confidence, as well as your chances of a callback.

You should also consider speaking with a career counselor who can help get you set up and on your way to the interviewing process. The US Department of Labor also offers assistance with their One-Step Career Center, along with other programs that are specifically in place to recruit for jobs for recovering opioid abusers. There is also extra aid for veterans and felons, who may need a bit more support when looking for the right job.

The Right Job for You

Depending on your previous work experience and skills, you will have to make some decisions regarding what kind of job you are ready to take on. A part-time position is a great start, especially if you are still in treatment and spending a lot of time with counselors or working with your recovery network. Even if you feel you are ready to take on a full-time role and all of the responsibilities that come with that, it’s important to look for certain traits in a position to ensure that it will be a good fit with your recovery lifestyle.

Reasonable Hours: Aim for a job that has a standard working schedule so you can continue to work on your recovery counseling and other hobbies outside of the job. Jobs that offer the graveyard shift can quickly become isolating as workers typically are living the opposite waking hours of everyone else. Also consider commute times and routes! The goal is for this job to be part of self-improvement so it should not impede on day-to-day life.

Healthy Routine: A predictable job is going to be the least stressful, and in turn, more enjoyable. Some positions in sales where there is a lot of pressure and stress involved can really become a burden. A stable job that won’t bring negativity and conflict is the best kind to aim for, especially in the beginning.

Good Environment: The working conditions at your new job should be manageable and decent. This includes your commute, personal workspace, and company culture. With toxic work environments, there may be relapse triggers, which you want to avoid as much as possible. Feeling safe and comfortable at your job is a bare necessity as you venture back out into the working world.

Growth Opportunities: While a stable and routine job is ideal, there should also be room for you to grow within the company. After the initial probationary period of a couple of weeks, you will quickly begin to learn where it is that you want to be. The ability to achieve promotions is incredibly important for goal-setting for the future.

With the preparation of your resume and initial scope of potential employers, the first steps towards reentering the workforce should feel exciting and uplifting! Some anxiety surrounding the unknown is to be expected, especially after sending out the first couple of resumes and job applications. The next steps will be to prepare for interviews, skills tests, and other obstacles that you will face as you work to secure your first job venture since entering treatment. These are all crucial for your long-lasting recovery and will help build a bright future.


So now that you’ve done all the legwork preparing your resume and applying to jobs, the interviews await! Meeting with an interviewer can be a bit nerve-racking, primarily if your resume reflects some gaps in work history due to your battle with addiction. The first thing on your mind in regards to sitting down with an interviewer is whether or not to mention your recovery status. It’s important to know that this is solely your choice, and you are not expected or required to reveal that kind of personal information to a potential employer. Your path to long-lasting recovery doesn’t define you, nor does addiction. With enough practice and preparation, you will be prepared to interview without having to mention it at all.

There may be situations where you will have to bring it up, however, and if that occurs, the right thing to do is be honest. If you are still receiving MAT and will need to take a drug test to get a job, you will need to disclose that before testing. Also, people who are going into medical fields that will be in situations where they are handling controlled substances or related matters, it’s a good idea to discuss your case. ADA laws protect those with substance use disorders as they do anyone else with a disability, so the law is on your side.

Interviewing Tips

As you prepare to meet with potential supervisors, colleagues, and bosses, keep the following things in mind:


  • Run late! Be sure you’re not too early, either. Show up 5-10 minutes ahead of time
  • Exaggerate the truth. Embellishing your work experience may catch up to you
  • Speak negatively about past employers or coworkers
  • Begin conversations with the topic of your recovery process
  • Interrupt or talk over the interviewer, even in a casual setting


  • Research the place of employment so you can make a solid first impression
  • Write a list of questions to ask about working as an employee
  • Review common interview questions and come up with flexible answers
  • Appeal to the interviewer discussing your strengths and weaknesses
  • Dress appropriately for the work environment you’re entering

Follow-Ups and Second Interviews

After you’ve completed an interview, don’t forget to follow up and thank the interviewer for their time. It’s a small but thoughtful gesture that shows you are an open communicator. This is particularly helpful in corporate settings where it’s normal to exchange cards and emails. When doing a follow-up, whether it’s leaving a voicemail or sending an email, be sure to touch on something that was discussed during the interview to add a personal touch. It’s a good way to avoid sounding generic and will help to create a lasting personal connection with the interviewer. Many times, if you don’t exactly fit the job description, leaving a good impression with the interviewer may get you considered for future positions with the company.

If you are called back for a second interview, it usually means that the “screening” interview went well and that you are being set up to speak with someone who will be working more closely with you if you get the gig. This should set you up with some confidence to really seal the deal and get the job.

Keep some of these pointers in mind as you prepare for interview #2:

  • Use the information you’ve gathered from personal research and from your first interview to come up with some relevant and new questions about the company and their philanthropies or local events occurring in the community. This will show that you are invested in what they are doing and want to be involved.
  • Review some common second interview questions that may come up. This interview will be much different from your first, but it doesn’t always mean it will be more difficult. Sometimes the second person you meet just wants to see if they will get on with you if you will work closely together.
  • Bring new details about yourself to the table. Try not to repeat too much of the same information that you shared in interview #1. Chances are, they’ve already been debriefed on the general details and want to get to know you better.
  • Be ready to meet with more than one person. It’s not uncommon to sit down with a leading group of people who may one day be your colleagues, managers, or supervisors. Don’t worry; they are probably not there to grill you. They are more focused on getting a feel for your personality to see if you would fit in with the company culture.
  • Ramp up your enthusiasm. Now that the first interview is out of the way and you feel a bit more comfortable let your personality shine through the nerves you may have had with interview #1.
  • Ask specific questions about the roles of the position you are aiming to take and inquire about room for growth and advancement. This will show that you are ambitious and see a future with the company rather than just another job.
  • Close the interview with a lasting impression. Consider sending a handwritten thank you note, which will catch them off guard since most things are done via email today.

Skills Tests

Some jobs and hiring agencies you come across may ask you to complete a skills test. This isn’t uncommon for temp agencies or vocational services. It gives them an overview of your general skills like typing speed and aptitude with various programs, especially for admin work. There are multiple resources online to help prepare you for these assessments. If you’re feeling rusty, take your time going through various practice tests or take some free online seminars to boost your Microsoft Office knowledge. On the day of the test, do a short warm up before you go in, just to help you stay focused. Relax, this is just an assessment test, and you can always retake in a couple of months once you feel like you’ve advanced. Remember to read all of the test instructions carefully and let your knowledge take you through to the end of the test.

You are bound to experience highs and lows while going through the hiring process, which is why it’s vital to stay positive and grounded. Things will not always work out with jobs you are aiming for, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s not always a reflection of you and your skills, sometimes it’s simply not the right fit. There will be other jobs and opportunities that will come along. As an adult in the workforce, you will have to face rejections and disappointment, so keep your objectives and expectations at a level you can handle and prepare to move past any setbacks that occur.

Balancing Work Life

Starting a new job means a drastic change in routine. That routine can also become monotonous after some time. These are two extremes you will have to handle when working while in treatment or recovery to ensure that you are properly handling stressors that come with being employed. The first two weeks are usually the adjustment period of learning the ropes at your new place of employment. While exciting, it can also feel overwhelming and exhausting at times. These feelings are bound to even out once you start becoming more familiar with places and people.

Another issue you may face is recreational drug use within your work facility or during after work hours. Dealing with coworkers who are dealing with drug or alcohol misuse can be complicated, and your gut instinct to avoid them should be firm to preserve all of the hard work you’ve done thus far. It may be easier said than done, mainly because you don’t want to risk your employment or your sobriety. This is the perfect time to reach for the tools you learned during treatment and discussed with counselors and peers in order to avoid potential relapse triggers that will be thrown your way.

Time and Stress Management

The concepts of time and stress really go hand in hand more than people realize. With a work schedule, timing is everything. If you don’t nail your timing, you’re bound to get stressed. From the moment you wake up in the morning, you will have to manage your schedule to get to work on time. This is why it’s important to consider your commute times and routes before you commit to a job. Make sure your commute is manageable and won’t add extra stress to your life by being overly time-consuming.

Naturally, there will be days when you feel like you absolutely don’t want to get out of bed, but as you become more accustomed to your new routine, those days will taper off, and you will start to feel the motivational benefits of starting each day with purpose. While enthusiasm is always a good trait to show at work, make sure you don’t get overloaded with your new job right away. Taking on too many tasks to impress your boss and coworkers can lead to quick burnout. Taking on too many shifts or projects that will extend beyond work hours can be a quick way to fall down a slippery slope. Plus, you should be leaving yourself some time to continue your other self-improvement feats, as well as attending your peer recovery meetings and activities. Be careful of becoming “addicted” to working, as that kind of behavior can bring about other patterns that you are actively trying to avoid on your journey.

Managing Work Relationships

Don’t let the new unchartered territory of a new job intimidate you, especially when it comes to meeting and collaborating with new people. The workplace poses a unique challenge as you can’t exactly choose your coworkers or boss. There will be good days and bad days but as you are in treatment or recovery, make sure to prioritize your wellbeing.

Exercise the practice of setting boundaries with certain employees at your job that you feel may pose a threat to your sobriety, especially if they are insistent on recreationally misusing drugs in your presence either during work or outside of it. This is also another reason to seek out programs that specifically help employ people in treatment and recovery. They provide a “recovery-friendly” workplace for those who genuinely want to earn a living without being surrounded by potentially hazardous work environments. Otherwise, you are capable of successfully managing these work relationships by using the tools you continue to discuss with your counselors and therapists in your recovery work.

It’s always good to be on the boss’s and supervisors good sides at work by volunteering to help out, being on time, and having a hard-working attitude. However, there are bound to be situations where you feel slighted or mistreated. The most important tool to use here is the power of communication. Instead of internalizing things that are bothering you at the workplace, find a way to verbalize your concerns and share them with someone who can help you resolve them. Avoid getting to the point where your work life is making you miserable and, in turn, compromising your ability to grow further into your sobriety. The purpose of taking a job was to help you improve yourself, not to add turmoil. If you feel things are not working out with your employer after giving it a valiant effort and seeking mediation, begin to seek out new employment before discussing your terms of quitting.

Out of 22 million people in recovery, about 9% are unemployed; more than double the usual unemployment rate for average Americans. With so much evidence and many stories pointing to employment as being a significant factor in helping people kick addiction, it’s important to approach the matter with proper planning. You have worked so hard to pick up the pieces of your life that were shattered by your substance use disorder, and you deserve to feel like a valuable, working member of society. Take a cautious yet strong step towards achieving your goals in becoming the best version of yourself while you continue on the road to long-lasting and healthy recovery.