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Steps to Entering the Workforce After IOP

Most of the coaching, medical support, and life skills you obtain in your intensive outpatient program are preparing you for stepping confidently into a new life. Part of that life is finding or returning to rewarding and fulfilling work now that your days in intensive outpatient programs are behind you.

You might be eager to return to work as it is a familiar environment, or you might have some concerns about the reception you will receive from your former colleagues. Perhaps you don’t have a job waiting and need to find the right opportunity, or you may not feel ready for the stresses involved. Now that your state of mind has changed due to addiction treatment, you may even feel ashamed of the way you acted at your place of employment before you started your recovery process.

But whatever challenges you will face as you undertake your individual journey towards recovery, taking this important step into the workforce is one of the things you have been working toward in your intensive outpatient treatment program. Now, you can overcome the obstacles and bring your new way of living into the outside world. There are so many benefits to your recovery to be found in the workplace and taking advantage of these opportunities is your next step to a satisfying life and building the support system you need to succeed in long term recovery.

How Working Supports Your Recovery

Working engages your brain in constructive thoughts. Solving problems and finding creative solutions builds your confidence and establishes new patterns of thinking and behavior, so you will be less vulnerable to the destructive behaviors that kept you trapped in drug and alcohol addiction before you entered an intensive outpatient program.

Working will enable you to:

Become more self-sufficient.

Taking care of yourself and providing for loved ones is good work. Standing on your own feet builds confidence and orients you towards your purpose. As difficult as this may be at first, attaining self-sufficiency is the rightful goal of all healthy adults and should be an important goal for you as you emerge from your intensive outpatient program and proceed with your recovery journey.

Belong to a community.

Wanting to be part of a team engaged in fruitful work is one of the best natural instincts of humanity. Collaborating, taking direction, learning, earning respect – all of these skills can be enhanced by getting back to work after intensive outpatient programs. Being employed comes with a built-in sense of community between you and your coworkers, so this is an opportunity to expand this sense of belonging outside of your recovery group and other 12 step support groups or addiction treatment programs you may have been attending.

Create new social opportunities.

As part of team-building and natural social interaction, new friendships and social events become available. Socializing sober is a learned skill. While being cautious of after-work events that involve drinking, you can take advantage of outings and socializing to expand your circle of friends in a controlled environment. Try bringing a significant other, family members, or another sober friend you can rely on for emotional support and to keep you on track to maintain sobriety if you do have to attend a work event where alcohol will be available.

Restore your reputation.

Rebuilding trust is an essential step in intensive outpatient treatment. Addiction treatment lays the foundation for your recovery, but a job gives you the opportunity to prove your abilities and relieve any lingering doubts about your dedication. Seizing that chance to shine and earning trust from your coworkers and family members involves showing up reliably and doing the best you can. You don’t need to be a rock star right away as you move through the recovery process, but you do need to embrace the chance your intensive outpatient program has given you and give your job as sincere an effort as you can muster.

Find your confidence.

As part of recovery, you have come face to face with your own mental health weaknesses. While this is grounding and necessary, it shakes our self-confidence. Low self-esteem robs us of our energy and motivation. From this fragile place it can be intimidating to take on a job, but it is an ideal way to see visible progress in ourselves on a daily basis and give us the structure we need to be successful in our addiction treatment. As your confidence grows, you can give more back, creating an upward spiral that will help you maintain sobriety.

Experience normalcy.

Returning to work or finding a job is a signal to the world that you are back. Using your time constructively and building a new routine without drugs or alcohol will become your new normal. It takes time for this new life to feel normal, but there is no other way to achieve that effortless sober daily life than to just do it and persevere until you find your balance in addiction recovery.

Working Supports Your Recovery

Returning to Your Existing Job

There are some considerations which relate to returning to your workplace after intensive outpatient treatment for your addiction. Returning to people who know you has some advantages but might also bring with it some uneasiness based on your past performance. If you have moved to attend a rehab center, you may also be facing the decision of whether to stay in the area or return to your old haunting grounds, which may bring with it new temptation to engage in behaviors related to your addiction.

Keep in mind:

Your confidentiality is protected.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection for employees who have chosen to enter treatment for substance abuse, so you can keep the fact that you are in recovery entirely confidential. When questions come up from coworkers, it will be your choice how much to share. Your supervisor or manager will outline any specific requirements of your organization for returning to work after treatment and should respect your privacy during the transition. You are under no obligation to discuss anything that you would rather keep confidential, but know also that most people tend to be accepting of mental health problems and having sought treatment for the disease of addiction is nothing to be ashamed of.

You know how to manage your stress.

There will be some stress involved in returning to work. Try not to focus on what other people might be saying about your absence. Many coworkers will be supportive but might be clumsy in how they approach you about your addiction recovery. Prepare some calm phrases to deflect inappropriate questions and use the techniques you’ve learned in your intensive outpatient program or other therapy to manage your stress. Your first job is to protect your sobriety and your hard-won recovery from addiction.

You will need to deal with your feelings.

Returning to a group that knew you when you were using can bring up feelings of guilt or shame. If left unexamined these feelings can lead to the desire to escape, which might put your progress at risk. Remind yourself of how much you have learned in treatment and of your power to change yourself. Reach out to your sponsor, friend, or counselor and talk through these feelings. Overcoming this obstacle is a brave and necessary step forward.

Your success will speak for itself.

You have time on your side. Achieving positive results and success at moving back into your work group will quiet anyone’s doubts over time, including your own. People around you will begin to see the change you have created through your hard work in your intensive outpatient program. They will begin to count on you, and as you take on more responsibility with success, you will surpass their expectations.

Finding a New Job

Perhaps you don’t have a job waiting for you upon your return, and you need to enter the job market after completing an intensive outpatient program or stay at an inpatient residential treatment program. This gives you the unique opportunity to seek a good fit for your needs as you transition back into the workforce.

Consider these factors as you apply for a new job:

Just get started.

If you can’t find a paid job, or while you are waiting to hear back from a position you applied for, consider a volunteer or transitional position to get your feet under you and some recent work experience for your resume. Small steps and eliminating a large employment gap with something fresh will help you gain momentum, and starting with something low-stress can help you have the time to feel more solid in your recovery before you select a position with higher stakes. This can also help you get used to holding yourself to a structured schedule again if you have been out of the workforce for a long time due to your addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Easy is good.

A well-structured and clearly defined job may be a great start as your first step towards employment during your recovery. Consider taking a position you might have considered too entry-level before your addiction treatment, or taking a position with less working hours than you are used to. Maintaining your sobriety is your primary job right now. An easy job might be more than enough, so set yourself up for success and select something you know you can handle as your first step.

Find a schedule you can keep.

Make sure that you will be able to keep up with your post-treatment support groups and recovery activities that are helping you grow your sobriety skills and network. Avoid jobs that are asking for extensive overtime or schedules that will disturb your sleep. Fatigue is one of the most well-known triggers for substance abuse, and no job is worth jeopardizing your addiction recovery. You may want to talk to your therapist or counselor about what employment options are most appropriate for you given where you are in your addiction treatment.

Determine your transparency level.

It is your decision how much about your past in addiction treatment you might choose to share with a new or prospective employer. You might want to share in an application, during an interview, after employment, or not at all. Just be sure that your online presence is not being more open about your problems than you intend to be, as a search of your social media is a common step in the hiring process. Even an accepting employer might catch you off guard if they bring up your addiction treatment during an interview.

Be confident in your rights.

You are protected by the ADA against hiring discrimination based on past drug use or addiction treatment, as long as you are not using now. Some individuals in recovery choose to share more about their situation because finding the right supportive employer will be the ideal situation for their long-term success, and they have no desire to try to keep their challenges and history a secret. Addiction is a common disease, so an employer may well know someone who has struggled or even be in recovery themselves and be understanding of your situation.

Beware of Workaholism

Being aware of a tendency toward addictive behaviors, intensive outpatient treatment programs and other forms of addiction treatment often warn against substituting one addiction for another. Working can grow into a replacement addiction when it is used as an escape from dealing with family or home life.

Working excessively long hours, obsessing or thinking constantly about work, or allowing work to prevent growth and healing in all parts of life are signs of work addiction. While you might be highly motivated to prove yourself in the work arena, any activity that is destructive and obsessive should be treated accordingly.

This addiction might be more socially acceptable and even encouraged in some circles, but it will pose a risk to your long-term recovery. Burn out is inevitable, and the heightened stress chemicals are serving as a replacement for other substances. The stress might lead you to relapse, or to begin abusing drugs again in an effort to keep up with an impossible workload. If your work begins to take on this role, speak to your sponsor, mentor, or your professional recovery team of therapists and counselors and address it right away.

Work is important, but balance is more important. Rather than throw yourself into work, develop a pace and separation between home and family that will support your sobriety and ideal work-life balance for years to come. In this spirit, you may also want to avoid positions that do not come with a clear boundary between working hours and the rest of your daily life.

Ready, Willing, and Able

As you step out confidently from our intensive outpatient treatment program at RECO Intensive, we are behind your success in recovery 100 percent. Our winning team of professionals, including experienced therapists and counselors who are experts in addiction medicine, will help prepare you to meet this challenge and create or re-establish your connection with a new winning team in the workplace.

By guiding you in creating a strong balance between work and home with evidence-based therapies and experienced addiction treatment services, our team will be your greatest ally in this transitional step out of addiction treatment and into a fully productive life. Our individual counseling will combine with family therapy and group therapy to help you in fostering essential life skills and career skills as well as help you resolve any underlying mental health problems or disorders that may have played a part in your alcohol and drug addiction.

If drugs or alcohol are preventing you from finding or keeping employment, we are here to help you overcome addiction and experience your full potential. Know that any of your calls to our helpline will be entirely confidential, so there’s no reason not to reach out to us now to learn how our intensive outpatient program can help you find your way towards long term recovery from addiction!



  1. https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm

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