Don’t let your job be what’s keeping you from entering into an inpatient treatment program. It’s natural to worry about how it would affect your employer and coworkers’ view of you or to be concerned that you’ll lose your job—but these fears (rational or not) show that you care about your work. With that in mind, the reality is that no matter how hard you try or how well you hide it, your addiction will always be keeping you from truly achieving a successful, fulfilling career.
Consider What Your Boss Already Knows
Because addiction is an illness that takes hold of you and spreads into all parts of your life, it is likely that your boss and colleagues have already noticed that something is up. The best thing you can do is to take the initiative in this situation.
If you do not acknowledge the way that your substance abuse has been affecting your work capabilities and performance, someone else will. For the best possible outcome, you want that conversation to be started by you requesting time off for treatment rather than your boss confronting your behavior and the consequences that could follow.
If you acknowledge the ways that your substance abuse has affected your job and you show that you’re only requesting time off so that you can receive treatment, you can communicate to your employer that you want to get better and be a better employee.
How FMLA Can Help
If you are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), you can request an unpaid absence to receive the proper addiction treatment that you need. All you need is a note from your doctor certifying that “your need for time off work is due to a legitimate medical condition.” Your employer cannot legally jeopardize your career because of this request—you are seeking the help that you need.
Check out this helpful article to find out more about your legal rights in regards to getting time off for residential recovery treatment—there are systems in place to make sure you get the health services that you need. If you still need more information in regards to your specific situation, contact your company’s Human Resources director (if applicable) or talk to someone at a recovery center like The Aviary.
How to Approach the Conversation
The following is a hypothetical conversation that you could have with your boss (or whoever would be appropriate at your workplace) to give you some ideas of how to go about a sensitive conversation.
You: Thank you for making some time for us to talk.
Your Boss: Sure. What’s up?
(Make eye contact if you can, and speak calmly.)
You: As you might have already noticed, I have not had the best work ethic and behavior over the past couple of months.
Your Boss: I have noticed. But it does make me feel better that you are the one initiating this conversation.
You: Well, I suppose that’s good! I want to first make clear that my sloppy mistakes and missing those deadlines were not because I don’t care about this job or the team’s mission—I really, really do.
Your Boss: I know you do! That’s why your performance these past few months has been so surprising to me.
(Take a deep breath. You have nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about.)
You: Trust me, it hasn’t been what I wanted. This is hard for me to share, but I know that you deserve to hear the full story and I trust that you’ll be discreet with what I have to say.
Your Boss: Go on.
You: As you know, my mom passed away last spring and, well, it’s been hard for me. And I haven’t been dealing with the grief well. I turned to drinking to cope and over the past few months it’s really become something out of my control.
Your Boss: Wow, thank you for telling me.
You: Last week when I got your email after I never showed up for the final pitch meeting, I forced myself to acknowledge what’s been happening as what it is: an addiction. I realized that I need help.
Your Boss: Well I really do appreciate your honesty, but I don’t know how I can help—
You: No, I mean professional help, but thank you. I’ve done some research and I’ve found a recovery center nearby that works with my insurance. It offers an inpatient residential program that I think will be the most effective for me.
Your Boss: Inpatient? So, you’ll need some time off?
Your Boss: How much are we talking here?
You: I’m not positive yet, I need to first have an intake appointment and make sure that this center has a treatment approach that would be the best for me, but I’ll keep you updated.
Your Boss: Do you have enough sick days left? Or vacation days?
You: Unfortunately, I already used my vacation days to attend my mom’s funeral.
Your Boss: Ah, right.
You: I’m pretty sure I still have a couple of sick days, but I’m going to need more time off than that.
Your Boss: Well maybe you should talk to HR.
You: I did! It turns out that seeking recovery treatment is covered under FMLA, so I already gave them my doctor’s note certifying my leave of absence…I wanted to have this conversation with you before I committed to a program though.
Your Boss: I’m very glad you did. And I’m glad you’re getting the help you need.
You: Thank you so much for understanding.
Your Boss: We’ll miss you around here, but know that we’ve got your back!
Sharing with Others
You do not have to announce your substance abuse struggles to everyone in the break room. In regards to your coworkers, it will depend on the kind of relationships you already have with them and how closely you all interact with each other on a daily basis.
Depending on your situation and if you are worried about rumors spreading, maybe you would feel more at peace if you told a few coworkers who you trust why you’ll be gone for a couple of weeks. On the other hand, maybe you’d prefer not to tell anyone or simply say that you are taking some time off for “personal or family reasons.” Both options and anything in between are totally acceptable. This is your information and what matters most is that you feel comfortable with how you go about the transition.
Remember that more people than we usually expect have their own experiences with mental illness, addiction, and recovery. There is a strong societal taboo around these parts of life, but there is nothing to be ashamed about. You might even be surprised by the support and understanding you’ll get in response.