Career Woman

9 ways to help colleagues returning from rehab


As hard as it is for someone to admit they have a substance abuse problem – alcoholism, drug addiction – and decide to seek help by checking in to luxury rehab centers for treatment, it also is hard on those friends, family members, and even coworkers left behind. They probably don’t understand what happened or how to react.

Until very recently, we weren’t taught much about addiction, except that it’s bad.

Don’t do drugs. Just say no. But the medical and political community has been slowly reaching a consensus that, as

U.S Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health concluded, “Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a chronic but treatable brain disease that requires medical intervention, not moral judgment.”

Drug addicts aren’t bad people; they’re ill. In an interview Murthy compared them to people with diabetes or cancer, and said “substance abuse disorders don’t discriminate. They affect the rich and the poor, all socioeconomic groups and ethnic groups. They affect people in urban areas and rural ones.

“Far more people than we realize are affected. It’s important for us to bring people out from the shadows, and get them the help that they need.”

Your friends/loved ones/coworkers were not living in the lap of luxury; rehab centers are for medical therapy and hard work. When they come back from such treatment, after a month or three, they need understanding and support.

According to a Globoforce infographic, while “52 percent of us spend more than 30 hours a week with family,” “91 percent of us spend more than 30 hours a week with colleagues.” Some work relationships are real friendships. When a friend suffers from addiction, you want to understand and you want to help.

Here are some things you can do, and things you shouldn’t do, to help a workplace friend in that situation.

1. Respect their privacy

Most coworkers won’t know the addicts have been in recovery unless they decided to share the information, or if the addiction prior to their leaving was obvious. If it’s not public knowledge, don’t mention it. Even if it is, don’t pester them with questions about it. They will share if they want to do so.

2. Educate yourself

Even though it’s inappropriate to pester the addicts with questions, you can find out more about substance abuse in general and their addictions (if you know them) in particular. If the stay in rehab was precipitated by a public meltdown that makes the addicts’ privacy a moot point, the office manager might even have a workplace meeting before they return to explain all about their addiction and how to behave.

3. Don’t offer unsolicited advice

Just because you’ve educated yourself doesn’t mean you know more about their addiction than they do. Most rehabs, especially luxury rehab centers, have excellent and through aftercare programs geared to the individual addict. No two addicts or addictions are the same.

4. Open communications

You can let your addicted coworkers know that you’re available to them if they need information on what’s changed in the workplace during their absence, or a friendly ear. But even if you were after-work buddies, be patient. Recovering addicts still have work to do – such as spending time with peer support groups Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or reconnecting with family – that may take up a lot of their non-work time.

5. Consider a support group

Addicts aren’t the only people with a support group. Al-Anon was formed specifically by and for friends and family of alcoholics to help them understand and cope with alcoholics in their lives, both in recovery and still drinking. Recovering addicts who have friends or family in the group seem to stay sober longer. There also is a similar group for friends and family of drug addicts, Nar-Anon.

6.No pressure

Recovery is a process, so don’t expect addicts to be back to normal right away. In fact, since “normal” involved alcohol or drugs, the former addicts’ personalities might even be different. You might never have seen them completely sober. If they’ve changed, it’s probably for the better.

7. Don’t cover for them

If they aren’t up to the work, or show signs of relapse (not uncommon), it doesn’t help them in the long run to conceal this fact by doing their work for them. And it’s not fair to you either. It’s not squealing to let the quality of their work (or the lack thereof) stand on its own.

8. Don’t blame yourself

You didn’t cause their addiction, and nothing you do or say will bring about a relapse. You don’t have that responsibility or power. Al-Anon’s Three C’s state: “I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t cure it.” Relapses happen fairly often, and not just with addictions.

9. Don’t judge

Whatever you think of addiction and addicts in general, whatever your addicted coworkers did under the influence in the past, it’s better for you and them if you move on. Make a new beginning.

About Simone Flynn

Simone Flynn blogs about addiction, recovery, mental health, and wellness. Check out her blog and twitter

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