How to Overcome an Addiction Without Losing Your Career

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. You’re a corporate executive at a Fortune 500 company. It took you more than a decade to work your way up to this position from entry-level positions, and you consider this one of your greatest accomplishments. But ever since the economy crashed, things have been tense around the office.

Numerous budget-cuts have resulted in many employees losing their jobs. The stress of having to take on these additional duties is compounded by the fear that you will be the next one to go. Meanwhile, some of your friends and relatives seem to think that you have a problem with alcohol. Although you disregard their accusations, after a while you begin to notice that you’re starting to have financial troubles. Those bar tabs start to add up. And when did you start frequenting bars during the week, anyway?

Before you know it, you’re having trouble making it to work on time and have substituted alcohol for the sodas you used to have with meals during your lunch hour. Finally, you realize that you have a problem. Fortunately, all you need to do is find an addiction treatment program and you’ll be cured. It’s simple, right?

Then you think about all the hard work you’ve put into your career. If there was even the slightest chance you were going to lose your job due to the budget cuts, it would be the final nail in your coffin for your employer to learn that they’ve been paying an alcoholic. You feel completely stuck: How do you get help for an addiction without it costing your career?

Does Your Place of Employment Offer Employee Assistance Programs?

There have been many people to find themselves in this predicament. In fact, it’s estimated that 9 percent of all individuals with a full-time job — almost one in ten individuals employed full-time — is suffering from a substance abuse problem.1 For these individuals, they often don’t feel getting treatment is an option. The perception is if they want to hang onto their careers, they must continue trying to work despite being in the throes of active addiction.

In all likelihood, an addiction will ultimately result in the loss of one’s career at some point if it’s not addressed with treatment. Fortunately, individuals in this situation will find that there are several options available to them that won’t force them to sacrifice their careers to get help for their addictions. The first option is to take advantage of an employee assistance program.

An employee assistance program — often abbreviated as EAP — is an intervention program offered to employees to help them address or overcome a number of potential personal problems that they might have.2
In particular, these programs are intended for use in unexpected crisis situations, including issues related to physical or psychological health, marital or family problems, financial problems, and even substance abuse. However, they can also be used in non-medical situations such as for additional workplace coaching and career rescue. In short, these programs provide assistance in situations that can either negatively affect an individual’s job performance or cause absences.

Among the many benefits to which an employee can access through an employee assistance program are mental health screening tools, problem identification and assessment, counseling, referrals to healthcare specialists for diagnosis and treatment, case management, and follow-up services for employees as well as the members of their households.3

Although employee assistance programs are most often associated with government agencies and financial institutions, any company can offer employee assistance programs as part of their employment benefits packages. Many people are unaware that their employers offer these programs or they don’t know how to use them. However, since employee assistance programs are typically managed by third parties rather than from within organizations, they’re an invaluable resource for those who want to go to an addiction treatment center without putting their careers at risk.

Breaking Down the Family and Medical Leave Act

There’s another option that may be available if your employer doesn’t offer an employee assistance program: the Family and Medical Leave Act. This one is more well-known than employee assistance programs and tends to be more accessible. By law, there are certain requirements an employer must meet and requirements the employee must meet, too.

For an employee, you must have worked a minimum of 12 months with the company, a minimum of 1,250 hours during those 12 months, and at a location that employs 50 or more individuals. However, as long as you meet the criteria, you’re able to take an unpaid leave of absence for up to 12 weeks without losing your job.

The obvious purpose of the Family and Medical Leave Act is to give someone a period of time to recuperate after some type of medical emergency, but it can actually be used in a number of other situations, including for substance abuse treatment.4 Since a substance abuse problem falls under the category of a mental health problem, the Family and Medical Leave Act will give you up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to get treatment. However, if you or your employer don’t meet the criteria to qualify for this coverage, there are other options that might be applicable.

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Work for or Against You?

Since 1990 when it was enacted into law, the Americans with Disabilities Act has protected individuals from discrimination at work, school, in public transportation, and other public and private areas that are open and accessible to the public. To be protected until this legislation, you must have some type of mental or physical impairment that inhibits some aspect of your life.5 Fortunately, addiction is considered a mental health problem, which means that it can fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On the one hand, this is a very tricky situation. Any employer has the right to ensure a safe, alcohol- and drug-free workplace. Since being under the influence on the job can put both the addict and his or her coworkers in jeopardy, an employee who has been under the influence on the job is at risk of termination. In such instances, an employer will mandate alcohol and drug screens to make sure that employees aren’t under the influence at work.

However, addiction is unquestionably a mental health problem. As long as you haven’t violated the terms of your employment by being under the influence on the job, the Americans with Disabilities Act may allow you to seek treatment without losing your job. This can mean either a modified work schedule so that you can attend treatments or unpaid leave to go to a program.

It’s important to remember that there are options available to those who are suffering from substance abuse problems and don’t want to lose their careers in the process of getting treatment. Between employee assistance programs, government protections and having open communication with your employer, getting help for an addiction doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your livelihood.

Written by Dane O’Leary


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