Jobs and the Job Market… For Addicts in Recovery


After addiction, what comes next? Often, we former addicts and alcoholics can experience the challenge of finding reasonable employment. We might ask ourselves questions like: Should we work in roles that we had in active addiction? Do we change industries completely? What are some of the goals of our work lives? This struggle can cause additional unbalance and possible self-doubt. The good news is that if you find yourself stuck in the job looking process, there is a system of support resources that can help.

Here, we address these questions and look into some good jobs in early recovery. We discuss more about how to prepare yourself for a job in recovery and what opportunities to look at when searching for a job. We’ll talk about the kinds of issues can occur during the process and which organizations can offer you support. Then, we invite you to send us your comments or feedback to Addiction Blog. In fact, we respond to all legitimate correspondence personally and promptly!

Can a job help you stay sober?

Absolutely. Think about it. Before recovery, you used to spend most of your time and energy on using drugs or alcohol. Now, it is a thousand times better that you start to fill that time with other things. Jobs help enhance self-esteem. As you take on more responsibility, your self-worth increases. Not only is your time occupied, but you are contributing to society. Most importantly: When considering work in recovery DO NOT JUST DO NOTHING!

Start by creating a calendar where you can write down your goals and fill in the ways to use your free time. Fill your days with a job and other activities that will keep you sober, and keep drugs and alcohol from taking over again. Finding a new job will keep you busy and away from others who use. Knowing you can handle job responsibilities and conflicts can give you confidence and build trust. This is true motivation!

Preparing yourself for the job market

So, how do you get ready on this quest? If you’ve had experience in a specific field, consider refreshing your skills and doing some research to see how much the industry has changed. If you are new to the workforce or want to transition to a new career area, consider your interests, do some research, and determine whether education or training are possibilities before beginning the application process.

Plus, you’ll want to review and revise your personal goals and the documents that go with them. Even if you’ve had experience in the recent past, it’s a good idea to create a new resume, do some research in your ideal field, and get a feel for what you can expect. Record your goals or make a personal mission statement. There are many self-development organizations and support groups that can help you through this step of the process.

Life skills programs in addiction recovery

One pro-active step you can take when job hunting is to brush up on your professional development skills. A “Life Skills” specific treatment program can help. The interventions are designed to provide a foundation of soft skills as part of your transition to employment and independence. The goals of these programs include an introductory exposure to soft skills. These skills can bring you to a better position on the labor market and upgrade your knowledge to a level that will open up more job opportunities for you. Life Skills Treatment Programs:

Employment Skills – Work behaviors, attitudes and habits, job seeking skills, customer service, effective communication and vocational exploration

Interpersonal Skills – Disability awareness, self-advocacy, interpersonal communication, initiative/dependability, anger management, conflict resolution, social skills, and self-confidence

Personal Management Skills – Money management, time management, route finding and information seeking, personal health care, chronic disease self-management, healthy relationships, leisure education, and drivers preparation

Practical Living Skills -Clothing care, hygiene and personal appearance, and the fundamentals of health and nutrition

Jobs to target in early addiction recovery

It is of huge importance during the sensitive period of early recovery to choose a job that will support your recovery process. Avoiding stressful work where the pressure is too high will give you time to prepare yourself on the physical, emotional and mental levels for challenges that will come in the later phases of your life. What we suggest is that you look for jobs that can help you “keep it simple”. These might include:

Retail sales clerk
Doing something you love
Manual labor (landscaping, painting, etc.)
Office administration
Volunteer work

How to find a job in recovery

Although finding employment after recovering from an addiction might seem overwhelming at first, working to understand the landscape and staying optimistic can help make that new job a reality. Fortunately, you aren’t alone in trying to find employment during addiction recovery. There are a number of nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and other groups that are dedicated to providing support and guidance to recovering addicts who are seeking a new job and a fresh start.

For example, most communities have local programs that promote or facilitate employment during or immediately after recovery. Contact your nearest vocational rehabilitation office, which is likely a part of your state employment office, for more information. Other places to look for help in the job hunt include:

America in Recovery promotes and facilitates the hiring of recovering addicts and prior felons, offering platforms for both prospective employees and employers to find good matches and form a new professional relationship.
Springwire’s Community Voicemail offers free personal voicemail for anyone in crisis or in transition that needs a reliable phone number to find work or help. The program has expanded to include links and guidance for housing and jobs.
The National H.I.R.E Network is dedicated to providing resources for recovering addicts and individuals with criminal records to find and keep new jobs, including community-based organizations and agency referrals.

Discrimination and the job search in recovery

Many addicts find courage and motivation to continue with their personal progress after recovery. But while looking for a job, we might face possible discrimination from an employer who does not understand addiction. Because of the fear of discrimination, a dilemma arises: Should you tell potential employers about your relationship with addiction? How honest do you need to be? What should be kept private, and what information can be public?

What you need to know is that in these situations protection is available. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit most employers from refusing to hire, firing, or discriminating in the terms and conditions of employment against any qualified job applicant or employee on the basis of a disability. These non-discrimination laws protect applicants and employees qualified for the job who currently are not engaging in the illegal use of drugs.

So the fact remains that the choice to identify yourself as “in recovery” is yours. Perhaps you should not necessarily volunteer information, but upon inquiry, use discretion when talking about previous habits or actions. It is important to be honest, though, because if discovered, you can lose trust. If the question is asked, you can react neutrally, saying that there is a life phase or transition you are dealing with and that it’s going well.

Your legal rights in employment
What can make the situation easier for you is to know that employers MAY NOT LEGALLY ASK certain questions. For example, a potential employer cannot ask you:
Questions about whether you have or had a disability
Questions about the nature or severity of the disability
You to take a medical examination to be considered for employment
Whether you have or had ever abused or been
Addicted to drugs or alcohol
Whether you are being treated by a substance abuse rehabilitation program, or have received such treatment in the past

One more thing that might increase your motivation to start looking for a job is that The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives you the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period when needed to receive treatment for a serious health condition, which, under the FMLA, may include substance abuse. The leave must be for treatment; absence because of the employees use of the substance does not qualify for leave. You can read more about your legal rights in the SAMHSA produced brochure about discrimination and substance abuse referenced at the end of this article.

Reference Sources:

SEMEL INSTITUTE: Employment During Recovery

Virginia: Life Skills Transition Program (LSTP)

SAMHSA: The next step toward a better life