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Should You Tell Your Employer About Your Addiction?

By Rebecca Fischer

Nearly one in 10 veterans seen at the VA have an issue with alcohol or drug use. Untreated addiction can have many detrimental effects on a person’s life, including on their career. If you or someone you know is facing substance abuse, you may be wondering how to approach your employer about your addiction and plans for treatment. The information below will provide helpful tips as you prepare to inform your boss about this pivotal time in your life. 

Why You Should Tell Your Employer About Your Addiction


Being open and forthright with your employer allows them to understand what you are going through without learning about it from rumors or gossip. It also allows them to implement accommodations for you while you are in treatment. Honesty builds trust, and discussing a complex subject like addiction will lessen the stigma surrounding substance abuse. If you try to cover up your drug and alcohol use, it may lead to poor job performance, attendance problems, and injuries. 


Prepare for Your Meeting


After you communicate to your boss that you’d like to set a meeting with them, you should review your company’s policy on medical leave. If nothing in the handbook answers your questions, contact HR directly. Most workplaces have a policy on drug and alcohol use, and you should know everything you can before talking with your boss. 


Every U.S. employee has legal rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which states employers must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons. There are also stipulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that a reasonable accommodation can be made if it doesn’t impose a hardship on your employer. Knowing your legal rights and company policies will put you in a position of strength when approaching your boss about your treatment plan. 


How to Approach Your Boss


If you decide to divulge why you need to take some time off from your employer, it’s always best to talk directly and clearly. Explain the situation, your decision to seek treatment, and how long you may be absent from work. It also helps outline how treatment will impact your job performance and health. When your boss feels like they are being approached from a place of honesty, they will be more likely to empathize and offer assistance in any way they can. 

What Not to Say


You don’t need to go into a detailed history of your substance use. Stick to a need-to-know basis and avoid making excuses or blaming work-related stress for your addiction. Refrain from speculating how your coworkers or clients will react to your absence. Avoid dramatic phrasing that insinuates your job may be in jeopardy as you take these positive steps to improve your life. 

Emphasize Your Commitment to Recovery


Assure your employer that you are committed to completing treatment and will follow all program recommendations. Explain that you are dedicated to maintaining sobriety and restoring lost trust. You can also share addiction and recovery resources with your boss so they can support you on your journey. Conveying your drive to achieve long-term recovery will show that you value your job and want to be a more effective employee. 


Telling your employer that you have an addiction is a personal choice, but with empathy and positive communication, you can get support for treatment. Honesty is the foundation of trust, and sharing that you have a health issue but are committed to recovery will demonstrate to your boss that you can overcome this challenge. 


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1 Comment

Jan 21

No. Some people just lack self control and cannot be helped.

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