What You’ll Learn

This article outlines the importance of the conversation about drug addiction with your boss. It also gives you information about which protocol to follow when you discuss a medical leave of absence with HR people. Plus, we discuss your rights and obligations to your workplace and company when you leave for treatment. In case you don’t find the answer all your questions, we welcome your questions. More about how to announce your temporary absence from work here.

Fear Keeps Us Quiet

Fear is the most common reason for keeping drug addiction a secret. We are afraid that people will think we’re crazy. We’re afraid that we’ll loss our jobs. I was afraid that no one would want to work with me again!

So, if you’re concerned about revealing the truth that you’re leaving for drug rehab, you are not alone. However, you might be surprised that most employers are supportive! 

Addiction Is Medical 

Drug addiction is an illness just like other diseases. It requires treatment. Further, if you think you have a drug problem, know that treatment works! Still scared? Think of it like this.

When we face an illness, we see a doctor. Got a toothache? Most of us won’t let it throb for long. We see a dentist. Maybe your skin has broken out with an undetermined rash. We’ll phone the dermatologist and get into the office for a diagnosis. So, why don’t we phone for help when we’re barely keeping our heads above water?

It took me all of one week in rehab to realize that addiction is nothing to be ashamed of! If you have an addiction problem that is having a negative impact on your life and work performance – rehab is necessary. Your boss should be introduced with this issue and can even support you through your leave. The sooner you seek help, the quicker you can get back to your old life and live healthy.

So, once you’re ready to admit or when you first realize you have a drug problem, I suggest the following:

Addiction can even be assessed by your family doctor or general physician. Diagnosis and referral are key! For more on how the professionals diagnose drug problems, check out these assessment tools:

  1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Screening Tools
  2. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice 2007 article: Concepts and Instruments
  3. SAMHSA Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 42.

Common Fears

In my personal experience, the most common feelings before entering an addiction rehab treatment are straight up: 

  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Remorse
  • Guilt

Viewing the past feels like sh%t. For me, I was preoccupied with negative emotions mainly because I didn’t know what was in store for me. How was rehab going to help? What was on the other side? Who are these people who are “treating” me?

But don’t let the guilt build up! Negative feelings, self-doubt, and worry are a part of the process. Talk about your fears. Air them out. Let in a little light…just by being really honest. Your vulnerability might open you up to admitting that you’re scared of these common fears.

Discomfort from talking about painful addiction experiences from the past.
Fear of being diagnosed and treated for mental health issues.
Fear of boredom or a life without meaning.
Fear of leaving the old circle of friends and/or a partner.
Fear of social interactions with unknown people at the facility.
Fear of withdrawal, which might be painful and uncomfortable.
Isolation and the uncertainty of treatment outcomes.
Misbelief that it is not possible to live without drugs.

You would be surprised to know that most people, people just like you, face these issues before checking into a treatment facility. You are not as unique as you think! Yet, so many successful stories bear witness to the fact that drug addiction is a treatable disease. The sooner you release fear and shame, the more energy you’ll have to focus on what’s really important – your health and welfare.

What About Legal Protection?

If you are facing addiction issues and are seeking help, get acquainted with your legal rights . The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are federal laws which protect employee rights within the workplace. Let’s take a look at these more closely here.

The FMLA. When people need to leave their workplace to receive treatment for a qualifying medical condition and/or to care for a family member they are protected by The Family and Medical Leave Act. Employees may only take Family Medical Leave for treatment when it is offered by a healthcare provider, referred by a healthcare provider, or as part of an EAP. The condition for an employee to be qualify for family medical leave is at least 1,250 hours of work at the company and employment for a year or more.

The ADA. In order to be covered by regulation provided by The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employees are required to fulfill any of the following criteria:

1. Successfully rehabilitated and are no longer engaged in the illegal substance abuse.

2. Enrolled in an active rehabilitation program and do not use illegal substances any more.

3. Inappropriately labeled as current substance abusers.

How Your Company Might Help

According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 10 to 25 percent of the American workforce has worked under the influence of drugs or alcohol. What’s even worse, employees struggling with drug addiction sometimes try to hide their problem and continue with work, unaware they are risking further career damage. Seeking treatment for drug addiction is essential for an employee’s professional career and success.

Many employers provide employee assistance programs (EAPs) as part of the company’s policy. EAPs include a variety of options and services for substance abuse and mental health related problems. In fact, these programs are designed to help you deal with personal issues that affect your job performance. It has been shown that employers who include EAPs within their company policy receive a return on investment of 3 to 1 for every dollar they invest.

EAPs are beneficial to employees because they lower the final cost of rehab, plus they help you feel not so alone. Knowing that your company is behind you can boost your confidence and motivation to get better. Contact your supervisor or HR Department to learn more about Employee Assistance Program in your company. EAP representatives can properly assess your situation and draw up a plan for you.

6 Tips To Help Break The News 

So, now for the “HOW TO” part of this article. How do you tell your employer you’re going to rehab? Will your job be there when you get back? What should you keep in mind? 

All of these questions torment employees who face addiction issues. But did you know that those who seek treatment for drug addiction problems may be more likely to keep their jobs than people who don’t? Some recovered addicts go on to even better positions after they overcome their addiction and get back to work. Here are some tips that should be a part of your plan when you approach your boss and intend to tell your future plans:

TIP #1: Before you start the conversation, inform yourself about the company policy.

TIP #2: Educate yourself about your rights. Equal Rights laws protect mental health issues as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, you have a right to privacy

TIP #3: Seek out counseling and advice BEFORE you discuss medical leave. Leave nothing to chance and be well prepared!

TIP #4: Communicate with your boss directly and simply. Avoid using excuses. Plus, lying will only work against you. Take responsibility for past problems and current action. Keep the message short and simple: “I have been struggling with mental health issues for some time now. I am taking steps to get better.”  

TIP #5: Make sure your job functions are covered while you’re away.

TIP #6: Lastly, put things in proper context. Remember that your health is more important than your job! Save all your energy and focus on your recovery.

Focus On Yourself And Your Recovery

In my experience,  being completely engaged in addiction recovery helped me become a better, more productive worker. In fact, it launched my career as a writer…an ambition that was shoved under the rug during active addiction. 

JUST KNOW THIS. Drug addiction is a serious matter that influences all areas of your life, including your working environment and the quality of your work performance. Deciding to put the issue in professional hands and to seek medical treatment might just be the best choice you can make! 


If you still have questions about going to rehab or explaining your situation to your boss, I’m here to help. Simply leave any questions or concerns you may have in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to give you a personal answer as soon as I can, or I’ll refer you to someone who can help.