People recovering from addiction (also called a substance use disorder) face an unemployment rate three times higher than the average rate, according to a 2017 study by the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Many employers fear that people in recovery will threaten the company’s success. In reality, they offer unique strengths you can’t find in other job candidates.
In the thick of addiction, most people feel hopeless. They often lose their jobs and struggle to care for their families. Many also experience jail time, homelessness, and life-threatening overdoses.
Once they decide to recover, they become committed to regaining the life they lost. Employment is an important part of that process.
When you hire someone in recovery, you’re giving that person much more than an income. You’re also providing:
A Sense of Purpose
When someone is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, his or her brain can focus only on getting and using the drugs. In other words, the drugs become the person’s sole sense of purpose.
During recovery, employment provides a new, healthy sense of purpose. It makes people feel accomplished and inspires them to keep fighting to maintain sobriety.
Between buying, selling, using, and hiding drugs, an addiction takes up almost every second of addicts’ days. When they recover, they’ll have far more free time.
Too much free time and a lack of responsibilities can cause boredom, anxiety, and depression. These feelings can lead to relapse. Employment helps people maintain recovery by keeping them busy and engaged.
In most cases, addiction shrinks people’s social circle. They start associating only with other people who have the disease. When they recover, they lose these connections and often feel isolated.
A job provides opportunities to socialize with people who don’t abuse substances and can serve as healthy role models.
Confidence, Loyalty, and Dedication
Addiction is a serious disease. However, due to ignorance and stigma, some people view it as a moral failing. They call those who struggle with addiction weak or lazy.
This type of discrimination can wreak havoc on a person’s self-esteem. For many people, getting a job and contributing to society restore the confidence they lost.
Most people in recovery feel significant gratitude when they’re given a second chance. That’s why they often display more loyalty than other employees. Because the company betters their lives so much, they dedicate themselves to bettering the company.
Increased Work Ethic
Gratitude drives recovering employees to work hard. However, it’s not the only explanation for their strong work ethic. Other reasons include:
Transitional Housing Requirements
During recovery, many people live in transitional housing. These facilities serve as safe, supportive environments for people who’ve completed an addiction treatment program but don’t yet have the resources for permanent housing.
To live in a transitional housing facility, you must be employed. Thus, residents tend to work extremely hard so they can keep their jobs.
A Need for More Responsibilities
Employment lowers the risk of relapse by keeping people busy. To stay as safe as possible, many recovering employees ask for extra projects on weekends and request regular overtime, often without pay.
A Desire to Prove Themselves
It takes a significant amount of strength to recover from addiction. Still, even when they’re in recovery, people who’ve faced addiction sometimes get called weak. To shatter this stigma, they push themselves in every area of their lives, including work.
Insight from Treatment
All addiction treatment programs feature therapy and support groups. These services teach people important skills that not only improve their personal lives but also make them better workers. Examples include persistence, honesty, open-mindedness, and strong communication.
Lack of Drug Use
An employee in recovery is typically dedicated to showing up sober and ready for work each day. The same can’t always be said for your average employee.
It’s true that some people in recovery relapse. However, employment makes relapse less likely. In addition, as with asthma, high blood pressure, and other illnesses, relapse is simply a sign that a person needs additional or modified treatment. It doesn’t mean he or she is not a hard worker.
Increased Applicant Pool
When you accept job candidates in recovery, you’ll obviously expand your applicant pool. However, the expansion may be larger than you imagined.
That’s because many people in recovery form communities where they connect each other with jobs and resources. By hiring just one person in recovery, you could access a variety of grateful, loyal, and hardworking employees.
As a bonus, employees in recovery tend to watch out for one another. They can hold each other accountable, watch for signs of relapse, and pick up shifts for people who are struggling. It’s difficult to find this level of teamwork in your average workforce.
How to Hire and Support People in Recovery
Before you can start hiring people in recovery, you might have to change how you evaluate job applications. Addiction often causes “red flags” such as long unemployment gaps and criminal charges. Remember that these events signal a disease and not a personal failure.
Once you hire people in recovery, encourage them to be open and honest. Help them feel safe and secure, and let them know they can tell you if they feel at risk of relapse. You can then arrange for the appropriate accommodations, such as time off for treatment.
Above all, treat addiction the same way you’d treat any other medical problem. This simple step ensures all of your employees can thrive.
Amy Matton is a content writer for Ark Behavioral Health. She strives to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and other mental health conditions.