Inpatient rehab provides clients with the opportunity to set their normal responsibilities and routines aside and focus solely on their recovery from substance use or mental illness. However, staying in this type of treatment indefinitely can be counterproductive as well as expensive. Transitioning back to normal life and everyday responsibilities after rehab is not only healthy but often necessary.
For many people, financial strain is the primary driver of their desire to go back to work. Having a disruption in income in addition to the expense of rehab isn’t sustainable long-term. Other people have fulfilling jobs they feel passionate about and they’re anxious to return to their duties. Either way, being productive, having a predictable daily routine and having a job to occupy the time can be a great asset to recovery.
Even so, the idea of going back to work can be scary. This is especially true if the individual is accustomed to a high-stress work environment where they may experience the same triggers that caused them to need inpatient rehab in the first place. Certain industries, such as emergency response, law, medicine and management, have workers who report particularly high stress levels. In those fields, substance abuse may be normalized, and it may be difficult for those coming out of rehab to stay on track.
Transitioning back to work without returning to harmful habits and addictions is possible. By properly aligning their priorities, understanding the dangers of relapse, and learning to navigate triggers and cravings, individuals can continue to make strides toward recovery.
Work and Recovery: Establishing Priorities
To avoid going back to rehab, it’s important for individuals to continue to prioritize recovery, even as they’re returning to the workplace. Individuals can make sure that they continue making progress in recovery by communicating with their employer, being selective about where and with whom they socialize, and keeping appointments with their mental health care providers.
Talk to Your Employer
The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes addiction as a valid disability, meaning that individuals can’t be fired from their jobs if they are seeking addiction treatment. The individual can choose how much or how little they want to share with their employer, but it’s reassuring to know that the law provides protection for those seeking treatment. Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations for those with recognized disabilities, as long as the individual is able to perform all the functions of their jobs and as long as they aren’t using illegal substances. This may mean providing a modified work schedule or approving a request for a leave of absence so the individual can access addiction treatment.
Be Selective About Social Settings
For those who enjoy spending time with their coworkers outside of work, reconnecting with colleagues after a leave of absence for rehab is often welcome. However, there may be some instances in which the individual has to decide whether returning to old habits and routines supports addiction or recovery. For example, if someone went to rehab to address alcohol addiction, they may not be able to continue enjoying Friday night happy hour with their coworkers.
Continue Seeking Therapy
Once the demands of work begin to increase, it’s sometimes tempting to scale back on other time commitments. For those who’ve stepped down to Intensive Outpatient Therapy, it takes some time to figure out a balance between addiction treatment and work responsibilities. It’s important to keep the focus on recovery and ensure that employment is a tool that helps you stay on track, not a roadblock.
The Dangers of Relapse When Returning to Work
While the danger of relapse may be present for the rest of the individual’s life, there is often an increased risk as the individual is transitioning out of inpatient rehab and back to their normal routine. This is particularly true when it comes to returning to work. For many who lived with addiction, substance use may have been a key part of decompressing after a long day at work. New habits take time to establish, and in the meantime, the individual may have to be especially vigilant about not falling back into old patterns.
Those in certain lines of work may have relied on drugs or alcohol to help them cope with difficult with stressful circumstances, dangerous situations, or tragedies they faced while on the job. Unfortunately, those stressors will still be there after rehab, meaning it’s important for the individual to find other ways to decompress. Finding a support group, keeping a journal, and continuing to attend therapy are essential for recovery.
Finding a Strong Support System
Support systems can come from a variety of sources. For some, the people living in their home can provide direct or indirect support, helping them maintain a sober lifestyle. Support may also come from friends, neighbors, coworkers, or their religious community. For others, support needs to come from outside their immediate circle and may be comprised of strangers in a 12-step recovery group. This is particularly true if the individual’s home environment is transient or otherwise doesn’t support recovery, or if their closest friends are still living with addictions.
A solid support system isn’t necessarily required for recovery, but it makes the journey a lot easier. As the individual is returning to work, their support system can help them stay mindful of their triggers, develop strategies to stay away from the substances they abused and provide a listening ear on the difficult days.
Navigating Triggers and Cravings
Humans are creatures of habit. Regardless of how dedicated a person is to continuing their recovery journey after rehab, there are bound to be challenges along the way. Triggers, which are events, emotions, or objects that make the individual remember or what to use a substance, often become an issue when the individual returns to work. Common triggers include:
- Social isolation
- Inadequate sleep
- Being around others who use substances recreationally
- Remembering and glamorizing past substance use
- Social situations in which drug or alcohol use is present
Over time, the individual may learn to become comfortable with or able to ignore a trigger. Until that happens, however, it may be best to avoid them and stay away from situations that could result in relapse.
While some triggers can be avoided, some come with the territory. This is when the coping skills and routines the individual established during rehab can help. Proactively managing stress, getting enough sleep, keeping structured routines at home, and keeping up with therapy appointments can help the individual navigate triggers and avoid relapse.
Continue Working Toward Recovery
After individuals complete an inpatient therapy program, they typically transition to outpatient services. While this therapy format is far less regimented, it’s no less important for the individual’s long-term success. Attending appointments, completing homework and exercising coping strategies and healthy lifestyle habits continue to be important, even as the individual takes on more responsibilities and shifts their focus back to their home life.
Going back to work after rehab is necessary and healthy. Being mindful of triggers, managing stress, and staying away from triggers that led to substance abuse in the first place can help the individual continue to make progress toward recovery.