An addiction to painkillers or other drugs can seriously affect a person’s behavior. Addicts typically become obsessed with taking and procuring more drugs, and they are often willing to take risks to do so. In many cases, addicts lose their jobs or compromise their job security because of substance abuse. The most effective way to overcome addiction is with professional treatment, but many people have concerns about how treatment affects their future prospects. Do job applicants need to reveal that they were in treatment? Will it compromise efforts to gain new employment? How much addiction history must be revealed? The answer often depends on the situation, but recovering addicts definitely have legal protections.
Legal Protections for Recovering Addicts
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has an online brochure titled, “Are You in Recovery from Alcohol or Drug Problems? Know your Rights.” The brochure notes several civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination, including the following:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
These laws protect people with any disability that substantially limits “major life activities,” including work and self-care. The courts determine “disability” on a case-by-case basis, but the brochure notes that addiction is recognized as a disability for many individuals. Attorneys and civil rights organizations can assist recovering addicts who may have experienced discrimination, though there are several people who are not protected by these laws, including the following:
- Individuals who currently use drugs in an illegal manner
- People whose drug or alcohol use puts others at risk for substantial harm
- Anyone whose substance use does not impair their life activities
Recovering addicts may be the victim of illegal discrimination if they are denied employment or treated differently because of their past substance abuse. Qualifications, education, and experience ultimately determine who gets hired, but past addiction cannot be a disqualifying factor.
Painkiller Addiction Treatment while Employed
SAMHSA also notes protections for employed individuals who want to enter addiction rehabilitation. State laws offer various protections, but the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act may provide federal protections for disabled employees who work for the government, a private employer who receives government money, or a private employer with 15 or more employees. The laws include two key protections, which are as follows:
- Reasonable accommodations should be made (e.g., changing work hours to accommodate treatment) if not an undue hardship to the employer
- Medical-related information (e.g., past or present substance abuse) must be kept confidential
However, these protections do not apply to addicts who are not seeking help, engaging in misconduct, compromising workplace safety, and failing to fulfill fundamental job requirements. According to the ADA website, casual drug users are not protected either. As emphasized by Psychology Today in 2013, the addiction needs to be a real disability that is being treated and not an after-the-fact “get-out-of-jail-free” card.
Tips for Working Again after Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment
Reentering the job market after addiction treatment may be an ideal time to draft a new resume, refresh certain job skills or pursue training in a field of greater interest. Helpful tips for seeking new jobs are included in the following:
- Applicants can legally be asked about past illegal drug use or drug-related arrests
- Applicants cannot legally be asked about the frequency of use, addiction, or treatment
- Do not lie or misrepresent the truth even if it might affect your chances
- Utilize local support groups to learn about recovery-friendly employers
- Understand that drug testing is legal, and a positive result is grounds for termination
A 2007 award-winning urban policy study at John Hopkins University highlighted important points about integrating drug treatment and employment services, including the following:
- A lack of job skills or employment opportunities can contribute to initial drug use
- People employed after treatment experience lower rates of relapse and criminal activity
- Having a job often helps a recovering addict reintegrate into normal daily life
- Employment can have positive psychological and social effects on recovery
The National Institute on Drug Abuse website notes that effective treatment attends to the addict’s many needs, including vocational issues. Several nonprofit organizations like America in Recovery and Springwire, as well as state vocational rehabilitation agencies, can assist recovering addicts in pursuing employment opportunities. Treatment facilities can also be a key resource.
Professional Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a neurobiological disease that will only get worse if left untreated, and it is typically a barrier to employment opportunities and a major risk to job security. In treating an addiction problem, rehabilitation centers can provide a variety of effective services, including the following:
- Medically supervised detoxification in a comfortable environment
- Integrated diagnosis and care for co-occurring mental health disorders
- Behavioral therapies to improve conduct related to mental activity
- Counseling to address unresolved trauma and drug use triggers
- Optional holistic treatments that promote better overall health
- Group therapy to express feelings and build support structures
For patients with multiple issues, case managers may be an option for coordinating care. This can include overseeing long-term mental health services, providing rapid response to setbacks, and advocating for special services, including community housing and job training. Case managers can also reassure potential employers that the recovery is being closely monitored.