The Role of Support in Co-workers’ Post Rehabilitation Journey

In a professional setting, addiction and recovery may feel like things you should not discuss. Supporting co-workers post rehabilitation might be an awkward topic, but it is important. You can be a positive influence that helps them stay sober. Simply by acknowledging the good work they have done, being a willing ear that they can talk to, and encouraging continued recovery activities, you can help them reintegrate into the workplace, making it easier to live a regular sober life.

Embracing Workplace Substance Abuse Recovery

In the workplace, substance abuse, recovery, and addiction are not often topics that are discussed, but reintegration of a co-worker after drug detox can feel awkward at first if you are not sure how to handle it. Supporting co-workers post-rehabilitation can be easy if you embrace reintegration.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” The workplace can be a sober-friendly spot where your coworkers can relax, knowing they are earning income while staying away from drugs and alcohol.  

Importance of Workplace Substance Abuse Policies and Programs

Having a workplace substance abuse policy is crucial in supporting post-rehabilitation in employees. The CDC suggests banning substances, having clear consequences for using substances, teaching about the health impacts and dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol on-site and off, and naming all types of drugs (and alcohol) that are not allowed to ensure fair, equitable treatment, and promote abstinence in coworkers.

A workplace substance abuse program can also be implemented, providing resources, time off, treatment, and insurance coverage to individuals who have a substance use disorder, with a plan in place for reintegration once treatment is complete. This will give the employee a safe way to get healthier, stop using substances, and get treatment for the underlying conditions they may have.

These measures let the employees know that they are valued individuals, who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that their mental health or substance use disorder does not define who they are. Like any other illness, they can have time off to get treatment, knowing that when they return, it will be a welcoming and safe environment.

Employee Assistance Programs: A Pillar of Support After Drug Detox

Employee assistance programs for drug detox vary from workplace to workplace but often include access to proper assessments, referrals to detox and rehabilitation centers, therapy, counseling services, case management services, and aftercare treatments.

These confidential programs are created to educate employers on addiction while working with managers to address employee challenges and organizational issues. They also ensure that people who have substance use disorders are cared for and that they can return to work safely after treatment with high levels of support when they need it most.

Fostering Co-worker Relationships After Addiction Treatment

One of the keys to fostering healthy co-worker relationships after addiction treatment is respect. If your coworker has recently returned from inpatient rehab treatment, understand that they have undertaken a significant and often challenging journey towards recovery. They might be readjusting to the workplace after their time in the rehab facility. It’s crucial to “read the room” – allow them to lead any conversation about their experience in inpatient rehab and recovery. If they choose not to discuss it, respect their privacy. On the other hand, if they open up about their experiences, be a good listener. However, always remember that your primary role is that of a coworker, not a therapist. It’s essential to maintain boundaries that are healthy for both you and them. Being supportive doesn’t mean overstepping your bounds; it means creating a respectful and understanding work environment.

If you wish, you may express empathy to your coworkers or encourage them to attend recovery meetings and join in on sober events, but it may be best to keep discussions centered around work as much as possible.

The Transition: Returning to Work After Substance Abuse Treatment

supporting coworkers post rehab

Some of the biggest challenges you may face when returning to work after substance abuse treatment include:

  • Feeling nervous or ashamed, even though you have done nothing wrong
  • Figuring out how to explain your absence if people did not know where you were
  • Stigmas surrounding substance abuse, or simply not knowing what to say may cause others to act differently toward you
  • Being away for months means things may have changed, with new procedures or coworkers to get to know
  • Facing triggering or unexpected stressful situations at work
  • Figuring out how to balance hard work and self-care

One of the most important things coworkers can do to make the transition easier is to foster an empathetic, work environment, with open, judgment-free communication, while respecting their privacy and boundaries. They can let the person know where they can get additional help while giving them space to readjust.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is supporting co-workers post-rehabilitation important?

Having a sober environment that is welcoming and non-discriminatory can make all the difference in a person’s recovery. They will be able to get back to work and start the process of reintegrating into society as a sober individual.

What is workplace substance abuse recovery?

After treatment for a substance use disorder, the workplace can be an important place in which an individual receives support. Health benefits, connections to support, therapy, and community, and other resources can also be found in the workplace, making it an important resource for recovery.

How can workplace substance abuse policies and programs help a co-worker post-rehabilitation?

Workplace substance abuse policies add tangible consequences, including mandatory treatment, suspension, or termination, depending on the circumstances of substance use. Education is provided, preventing ignorant comments or rumors from being spread, and a sober-friendly environment is created.

What role do Employee Assistance Programs play in supporting a co-worker after drug detox?

EAPs play an important role in supporting co-workers post-rehabilitation. They not only make sure the employee in question can reintegrate in a way that is best for their health (for example, starting slowly with a 3- or 4-day workweek, receiving training or updates, having access to counseling, etc.), but they also educate employers on addiction while helping arrange the workplace and address any challenges that come up.

How can I foster a healthy relationship with a co-worker returning from addiction treatment?

One of the worst parts about returning to work after treatment is worrying about stigma, or that people will treat you differently, so try to be a friendly, non-judgmental face in the crowd. They may or may not want to discuss their time away, and the best thing to do is follow their lead.

What challenges might a co-worker face when returning to work after substance abuse treatment?

Along with feeling nervous or ashamed, a co-worker may worry that they will be treated differently, or that they will have fallen behind by being away. They may also be unsure about what to say about their treatment, and they may worry that workplace hazards and stress will be triggering, or that they may be unable to handle exposure to people using drugs and alcohol.

How can I support a co-worker returning to work after substance abuse treatment?

Supporting co-workers post-rehabilitation is simple. Remember to be respectful of their boundaries and privacy (do not be offended if they do not want to discuss their health issues with you) but let them know that you are there if they want to talk about it. You can offer to get them up to speed on anything they missed when they were away and show them the types of support they can access within the workplace. You can also try to shut down any gossip or rumors about the person, fostering a positive environment.

What misconceptions might people have about returning to work after substance abuse treatment?

People may assume that a person in recovery will be unreliable, or that they may be a person who makes bad choices. There may also be unconscious biases against them that result in missing out on promotions or work opportunities. This is why coworkers need to be conscious of their biases and understand that addiction is not a moral failing. It is a disease, and their co-worker deserves to work in a stigma-free workplace.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.