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Addiction and Employability: The Challenge for Recovering Addicts

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Rebuilding your life as a recovering addict is not easy. There are many facets to the recovery process including rebuilding personal health, self-esteem and relationships that have been damaged by addiction.

Some recovering addicts require vocational supports to help them address employment needs. Depending on the individual, their career opportunities may be limited due to drug related misdemeanor or felony convictions. For others, finding employment that they are qualified for in a compassionate environment that provides ongoing support is difficult. While programs exist, the average employer may be less willing to hire someone with prior drug convictions even after they have stabilized and recovered.

There are many stigmas and assumptions about hiring addicts and the prejudice can further complicate an individual’s recovery. Recent surveys have disclosed that employers should be less concerned about hiring a new recovering addict and more focused on evaluating which current employees may need help with illicit drug addictions.

Unemployment Rates for Recovering or Non-Recovering Addicts

There is a misconception that most illicit drug users are in the lower income bracket, or that addiction is by nature more common with individuals who are underemployed. The social assumption is often raised whenever there is a discussion about community support and welfare. The debate inevitably leads to a question about whether people who are receiving government support use that money to fund illicit drug habits.

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recreational or habitual illicit drug use varies according to age and employment status.

The survey reported that:

  • For adults aged 18 or older, illicit drug use was higher for those that were unemployed (18.2%) than for those who were employed (9.1%) in the United States.
  • Adults aged 18 and older who were employed part time used illicit drugs at a rate of 13.7%, while students, homemakers, care givers working from the home, retired individuals or persons with disabilities represented 6.6% of illicit drug users.
  • Adults aged 18 and older who were employed full time reported an illicit drug use rate of 8.9%

The survey reported that while the rate of illicit drug use was measurably higher for Americans who were unemployed in 2013, the highest rate of drug use was actually among those who were employed. American adults over the age of 18 years who were employed full time, part time or self-employed accounted for 15.4 million addicts or 68.9% of the 22. 5 million known illicit drug users. 

The economic impact of addiction is a topic that is frequently researched. What this survey (and many others) demonstrate is that serving the addiction, or feeding the habit requires economic resources. Whether prescription drugs or narcotics or other types of illicit drugs, the purchase price is always high for the user. Someone living on a nominal budget would have difficulty financing their addiction, and it is important to differentiate that the average addict is not homeless, destitute or living in a shelter. The average addict is someone quite literally next door to you, living in your neighborhood or working in your office.

It might not be drug paraphernalia that you see, but rather a prescription pain, anti-anxiety or sleep medication. Schedule II and schedule III drugs including Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol, Oxycodone, OxyContin, Fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, Ritalin, Codeine, Ketamine and Anabolic Steroids are the most common prescription drugs that are easy to acquire and abuse for the employed and middle class segment. 

To Work or Not to Work? The Risk for Recovering Addicts

One of the significant complications for employment of recovering addicts is mandatory drug testing. For many positions employees are required to participate in periodic random drug tests, particularly in jobs that involve childcare, healthcare or heavy machine operation.

Drug testing by hair, saliva, blood or urine samples can report methadone and other therapy drugs in the system. This can make finding employment (or retaining it) more complicated for recovering addicts, who despite a want or need for medical privacy are forced into a situation where they must disclose their therapies and personal health history regarding illicit drug use.

Having a full time income can provide the resources to sustain a drug addiction. Not having a full time income can create stressors that make the recovery process harder. And some recovered addicts, convinced that employment will provide the resources they need to resume their habit may avoid employment for fear of relapse.

The ability to provide compassionate support to recovering addicts is essential to having them return to part time or full time employment while reducing the risk of relapse. Some Federal funding is provided for this purpose through the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration who issues grants to community programs that address disabilities which can include in some cases, addiction related to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

How to Avoid Getting Fired During Recovery

Discretion is the key to maintaining employment as a recovering addict. If however you are placed in a situation where a mandatory drug test is required, you do have some options and steps to take that may help you avoid getting fired as a result of drug screening.

The first step is to consult with a drug lawyer Chicago who is familiar with both the challenges of being a recovering addict as well as the laws that govern drug use, rehabilitation and your rights. Drug charges in the workplace may vary depending on discovery and the type of drug, but may include charges of possession, illicit drug use and even trafficking for the purpose of distribution.  If the use of drugs is related to a rehabilitation program (for instance in the use of Methadone) a drug lawyer will be able to present the best case for your unique situation based on your performance and recovery efforts.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published a guide called “Know Your Rights: Rights for Individuals on Medication-Assisted Recovery” which provides valuable information for individuals in recovery. For additional information contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or visit their website for resources in your local area.


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