It may seem counterintuitive that people whose lives were once dominated by drugs or alcohol could turn around and become a company’s most valuable asset. Yet many corporate executives have discovered that giving recovering addicts a second chance at success is more than charitable outreach to a disadvantaged group; it’s good business.
Because a career in the field of addiction treatment is a logical choice for many recovering addicts, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some extremely talented people who may have been overlooked in other fields.
In addition to earning a living, careers in this field give the recovering addict a chance to draw on their firsthand experience in relating to clients and to fulfill the 12th Step; carring the message of hope to others still suffering from addiction.
People in recovery are a tremendous asset in the treatment community. They have firsthand knowledge of the disease and a great deal of passion for helping others. When combined with professional training and education, these individuals develop the skills to understand the complexities of addiction and co-occurring disorders and meet the demands of working with addicted clients.
John Varley, former chief executive at Barleys, has argued that shunning job applicants in recovery would mean long-term problems for both the recovery community and the economy. Even in times of economic downturn, it makes business sense to send a valued employee who is struggling with addiction to treatment and to hire new employees who have recovered from the disease and successfully maintained their sobriety.
“I have seen first hand the real benefits for those businesses that are prepared to hire suitable candidates from the widest possible pools of talent (including disadvantaged members of the communities in which we live and work),” Varley wrote in The Guardian.
Why Recovering Addicts Make Good Employees
Why would a company consider hiring someone in recovery? Research suggests that people in addiction recovery are often:
• Highly motivated to work because employment grants the opportunity to get their lives back
• Loyal and committed to the employer willing to give them a chance and help them achieve financial, social and personal stability
• Less likely to take sick days
Because most people in recovery take an abstinence-based approach, these employees won’t be partying on weeknights or binge drinking on the weekend, which may mean greater productivity at work and fewer “sick” days spent nursing a hangover or other problem. If the individual has worked the 12 Steps or a similar program, they’ve embraced principles like honesty, humility and integrity, which serve them well both personally and professionally. Those who have completed a treatment program also have learned the importance of self-care, which often translates into increased productivity and focus at work.
I’m not arguing that recovering addicts should receive preferential treatment. They must be qualified for the job and challenged with the same rigorous selection process as other candidates. But they also shouldn’t be shunned or stigmatized by the sheer misfortune of suffering from the disease of addiction, which we know is strongly influenced by genetics and is, in many respects, similar to other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Managing the Risks
Are there risks to hiring someone in recovery? Of course. Any time a new employee joins a company, there are risks. Perhaps they have misrepresented their experience or skill, or have a physical or mental condition or life circumstance that will prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities at work. In addition to these risks, for the recovering addict relapse can be a concern even years into recovery.
Although these risks must be considered, in many cases, they also can be managed by:
• Requiring new hires to have a certain amount of time in recovery
• Adopting policies that encourage early intervention by outlining ways for employees to get help for drug use or other personal problems
• Offering employee assistance programs and/or a listing of resources available in the community
• Putting return-to-work and/or contingency agreements in place that lay out job performance expectations and consequences for unsatisfactory performance and/or relapse
• Conducting long-term monitoring, including regular performance reviews and/or random drug testing, when appropriate
• Educating employees about drug and alcohol problems and how to support coworkers in recovery
• Training coworkers and executives to recognize the signs of addiction and relapse and to offer appropriate assistance and support
Hiring people in recovery can be a win-win for employers. They can help someone get their life back and in the process gain a devoted employee. As long as there are recovering addicts in need of advocacy and support, and employers in need of loyal, hard-working employees, people in recovery may be an ideal match for that next job opening.
David Sack, M.D., is board certified in addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. As CEO of Elements Behavioral Health he oversees a network of addiction treatment programs, including Promises rehab center, The Ranch in Tennessee, The Recovery Place in Florida, and The Sexual Recovery Institute. You can follow Dr. Sack on Twitter.
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Last reviewed: 2 May 2012