A couple of years ago I came to the unwelcome realization that I had an alcohol problem. I had been promoted at work and the workload was double what I had ever dealt with. My home life wasn’t doing too well either. My girlfriend of three years (at the time), whom I live with, was pushing the marriage card and constantly went on and on about needing a bigger, nicer place. There was so much to do, so little time and the pressure was eating away at me. I figured that as a man, I needed to be able to handle it all and just suck it up.
At first it was just a drink or two at home to take the edge off. But then I would get through a whole bottle. It wasn’t long until I started sneaking drinks throughout my work day from the bottles I hid in my desk. I felt worse than before and I knew that if this went on even my ability to do my job would start to slip. I knew I needed to get help or I’d lose everything.
So I started digging. I looked everywhere I could to find a way to get help and not lose my job in the process. I found that my situation is actually pretty common. I found as much as 16% of the American population is battling addiction and 75% of those 18 and over maintain a job. I also found that there are certain legal ‘cushions’ if you will, to help ensure that someone that seeks the proper help and follows through can also keep their job. With all the information that I found and the steps that I took, I was able to get sober and keep my career. I hope that my sharing this information will help someone else do the same.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Addiction is considered a chemical dependency, which classifies as a disability. This means that you may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA does not apply to you if:
- your boss employs less than 15 people
- You are dependent of an illegal substance
- You are not performing at the same level of other non-disabled employees
- There is a firm no alcohol or illegal drugs in the workplace
- Existing policy dictates that employees not be under influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while at work
This means: if you are dependant on alcohol or legal drugs, there is no existing policy at your workplace forbidding it, you are maintaining a level of work equivalent or higher than your nondisabled coworkers, and there are more than 15 employees, ADA applies to you.
Thanks to the ADA, your employer is legally required to give you some level of leeway by way of allowing you a leave of absence to attend rehab or a schedule that fits AA/NA meetings.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Employees that meet certain criteria are allowed to take one 12 week medical within a twelve month period. The criteria includes:
- The act must cover the establishment that employs you
- You have to have been an employee of the establishment for 12+ months
- You have to have worked 1250+ hours within 12 months
FMLA allows medical leave specifically for substance abuse if certain conditions are met:
- The disability makes you incapable of performing your regular duties or working at all
- You have been referred by some sort of health care professional or provider
- You enter an inpatient program (you would have to stay at the facility overnight)
The act makes it so that your employer cannot fire you while on medical leave or because of it as long as there is no existing policy against alcohol or substance abuse.
The company I work for required that I talk to HR about this kind of situation. So make sure that you follow any policy your employer may have in place. Once you are ready to speak to whomever or have a meeting scheduled, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Before you speak with anyone you want to have proof. I went to my regular family doctor and told him about the situation. He was able to give me a written diagnosis of my symptoms and suggestions for treatment. It’s also important for your primary care physician to be aware of your situation for medical reasons, so that’s two birds with one stone.
Need To Know
When speaking to HR, I handed the lady my doctor’s note and stuck to basic information. I told her that I am an alcoholic and need to be treated. I didn’t sugarcoat or go into any kind of detail. It is more comfortable and perhaps even safer for you that way.
Eyes On the Prize
Make sure that you stress how much you want to get better for both yours and the company’s future. Ask for any suggestions or resources that your company may have and make sure to use them. In my case, the HR lady had many brochures and actually had a family member that went through something similar so she was more than willing to help.
If your company covers your health insurance, find out if they cover drug or alcohol treatment as well as how much.
On The Record
When I went in I took a notepad with me. I made a record of who I spoke to, what we spoke about and when. I asked the lady if she wouldn’t mind signing it for me just to stay on the safe side. I also BCCed myself on all the email correspondence so that I would have the electronic copy. This is necessary to avoid miscommunications or problems in the future.
To be entirely honest, rehabilitation and addiction treatment can be pretty pricey. But when you compare it to how much you would spend on substance, how much deficit you would face if you lost your job to the addiction, and not to mention the emotional and psychological effects of addiction, it is definitely worth it.
I was lucky enough that my insurance covered most of the cost and the rest I could comfortably pay for myself. But I met a lot of people in rehab that had to find other ways to make it work. The good news is that there are many options available. Whether you get a loan, private insurance, borrow from family and friends, or even come to a payment arrangement (some rehabs offer installment plans), there is always a way. The important thing is that you get the help you need so that you can keep moving forward.
Once you’ve finished your term in rehab and gotten the situation under control, there are still steps you can take to keep your job while recovering. I am sober, but it’s an ongoing battle. Forgetting all about the whole thing probably isn’t the best way to go about it. Recovery is tough but worth it.
- Keep going to meetings. The meetings help me stay on track and monitor myself. They will keep you inspired and help you manage triggers or distractions.
- Pick a good sponsor. My sponsor is like a personification of my conscience, but a lot less judgemental. Every time I feel the urge or feel afraid that I won’t be able to do it anymore, I get in touch with him in anyway and he reassures me. He’s recovering as well, albeit he’s been doing it years longer than I have, so we kind of help each other. Somehow he always knows how to help me and make sure I’m on the right path again.
- Do something you love. I started coaching a boys’ soccer team on Saturdays and it really is soul food. It helps me stay in a healthy state of mind and stay motivated. Find something, anything, whether it’s a dance class or fishing, do something outside of work that makes you feel good.
- Stay healthy. Eating good food, getting fit and getting plenty of sleep are all things that will help make you feel better about yourself. My girlfriend and I have this nightly routine where we take warm baths and play relaxing nature sounds so that we get good, deep sleep. It makes all the difference and helps me get through the day with a lot more energy.
Juggling addiction, treatment and recovery while maintaining your job can be scary. I just hope that sharing the information and steps that helped me keep my job will help you guys as well. It was hard to do, but now I can say that I did it, and I’m all the better for it. I also opened up about it with close family and friends, as well as my girlfriend. Everyone was really understanding and wanted to do anything they could to help. And my girlfriend? She never meant to lay all that pressure on me and we communicate a lot better so we can share the load and slow things down a little.
Now all I have to do is focus on feeling good and staying healthy, and that’s not too hard to do when you surround yourself with people and things that help you do that.