How to Put Your Career on Hold to Prioritize Recovery

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Bill (whose name has been changed) was making a six-figure salary, but because of his drug addiction, he could barely pay the rent. He was at the height of a successful sales career, yet his addiction was keeping him from living up to his potential — and he knew couldn’t go on living this way. There are millions of people in this country who, like Bill, may be successfully employed but barely scraping by due to a drug or alcohol habit. Often, too, the best solution to the problem — putting work and a career on hold in order to prioritize recovery — seems scary or unrealistic.

Take, for example, the intimidating prospect of how to tell your boss that you’re going to rehab. Below are some tips for doing just that, along with other advice for navigating the career implications of a decision to pursue recovery from substance abuse and a happier, healthier you.

Common Job-Related Concerns About Going to Rehab

One of the biggest concerns about going to rehab for anyone who is successfully employed is the question of how to take time off without jeopardizing your career. After all, positive treatment outcomes typically require a minimum of 30 days of inpatient rehab. They show the best results with longer stays (90-plus days).

That’s a big chunk of time away from work.  People worry that an extended leave of absence will cost them their job or hold them back from future promotions.

Others worry that if treatment means walking away from a job or putting their career on hold, finding a job after rehab will only be harder because of the gap in their resume.

Key Employee Protections Under the Law and Other Things to Consider

Such concerns are understandable, but they shouldn’t hold you back from prioritizing your recovery. Here’s why:

  • Many employers are legally required to grant a job-protected leave of absence (up to 12 weeks) when you or a close family member has a “serious health condition” that requires extended medical care. Under the same provisions, alcoholism, addiction, and other mental disorders qualify as “serious health conditions.” They warrant unpaid time off from work and the promise of a job upon your return. It may not be the same job.
  • As an employee, you are entitled to health privacy. You are under no compulsion to tell your boss why you need to take a medical leave of absence.
  • Even in instances where the only option seems to be quitting your job or putting your career totally on hold in order to pursue recovery, the long-term professional pay-offs of pursuing rehab can be well worth the short-term sacrifice.

Remember that even the worst-case scenario — the end of a job and an ensuing period of professional limbo — is a small cost to bear when it comes to your life and health.

How to Tell Your Boss You’re Getting Help for an Addiction

Such considerations should take at least some of the pressure off of a conversation with your boss. Here are some tips on how to tell an employer that you’re going to rehab and/or prioritizing your recovery:

  • Know ahead of time what your employer’s policies are regarding unpaid leave of absences.
  • Give your boss as much notice as you can if you’ll be taking time off.
  • Prepare your boss for the gist of your request ahead of time, so that they are not blind-sided.
  • Have the conversation in person, not over email or by text.
  • Present a plan for how to handle deadlines or other duties that you’re responsible for during your absence.
  • Avoid getting into gratuitous details about your addiction or program of treatment, and instead, stick to the basics.
  • Be prepared for the fact that you may be asked to provide proof of your medical condition. This depends on your situation.
  • Frame your decision to get treatment in terms of how it will help you become a better employee. It will improve not just your health and wellbeing (and in turn reducing absenteeism) but also your performance and productivity.

Remember Bill? In the end, he decided to quit his job in New Jersey in order to get treatment in Florida. Now, six sober years later, he is happily employed helping others find freedom from drugs and alcohol.

He may no longer have a six-figure salary. But he’d be the first to tell you it was the best decision of his life.

About the Author

Anna Ciulla is the Chief Clinical Officer at Beach House Center for Recovery. Anna has an extensive background in psychotherapy and clinical management. This includes more than 20 years of experience helping individuals affected by addiction and co-occurring disorders find recovery. Learn more about Beach House’s treatment facility by visiting their website.

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