If you’re among the 23.5 million people suffering from substance abuse disorder, you may be wondering what careers await you after rehab. The best careers for recovering addicts take into account your previous employment history as well as your interests, abilities and education. You’ll also need to factor in the flexibility you need to maintain your recovery program.
Many recovering addicts find themselves facing a difficult job market. It can be hard to return to the same workplace you left when you entered rehab. And although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on medical history — including past history of drug use and rehab — many former addicts say it can be difficult to find work.
Difficult? Yes — but not impossible. There are jobs and best careers for addicts, as long as you take a few things into consideration.
Should You Return to Your Former Career?
Unless your career kept you around drugs or alcohol all the time, it’s probably a good idea to return to your former career, even if it’s only a temporary step. Many people experienced in 12 Step programs recommend to newcomers that they not make any drastic changes in the first year of recovery. That includes changing jobs as well as major relationship changes.
Why the one-year wait? During recovery, you’re going through some big changes and upheavals in your life. Most of them are positive, but even positive changes have some stress associated with them.
You’re learning more about yourself now than ever before. In therapy, you’re uncovering a lot of emotions that you may have suppressed with substance abuse for a long time. You may be healing from trauma or challenging old perceptions. All of these are part of the normal growth process that may have been suppressed while you were using drugs or alcohol. Now that they’re removed, you’re changing in different ways.
During times of great change, it’s tempting to make all sorts of major changes throughout every aspect of your life. One area may be your career. An old career may no longer seem adequate or interesting. The stresses of your former workplace are back, and this time, you don’t have drugs or alcohol to numb yourself when the going gets tough.
These are just some of the reasons it’s important to stay in your old job. Addicts can be people of extremes, changing from hot to cold and from active to exhausted, from one day to the next, even when sober and in recovery. Such extremes can lead to impulsive behavior, including career shifts.
Another reason you shouldn’t change jobs quickly is that, when everything else is changing, it’s good to have something steady, reliable and familiar to fall back on. Your job may not have been the most exciting in the world, but if you know how to do it well, that’s one thing in your life that’s constant and stable. You are already learning a lot of new things, and maintaining your current position prevents added stress.
Wait at least a year before changing jobs. Talk to your sponsor, therapist, program friends and other trusted advisors. Ask for advice. Take a step back and evaluate. It’s all part of the growth process of learning to live in recovery.
When to Change Careers
Some people may have had careers that enabled them to continue using substances, or provided access to substances without much supervision. Nurses, doctors, pharmacists or LPNs who are in recovery may need to think long and hard about their jobs and the access it gives them to drugs. You can remain sober even when surrounded by substances, but it can be more difficult. Changing jobs when you’ve invested so much into your education may be even more of a challenge.
Others who have jobs that put them into contact with formerly abused substances may find it easier to change careers. Bartenders, restaurant staff, catering hall employees and others who have easy access to alcohol and sometimes drugs may find it simpler to change careers. There’s always a high demand for experienced food service workers, and other service-oriented jobs are also available.
It’s never an easy decision. You may feel like if you stay at your current job, you’ll be tempted to relapse, but if you leave, you’ve got a big mountain to climb to figure out where else to work. That’s yet another good reason to stay at your current job for at least a year.
Work with your sponsor and therapist to figure out an action plan to stay working and sober. For example, if temptation occurs while on the job, have your cell phone handy and give program friends a call to talk. Schedule 12 Step meetings into your day. Bring program literature to read at work during your lunch hour. Find ways to remind yourself that recovery is possible.
What to Look for in a Career
Some addicts didn’t have much of a career prior to rehab. They may have worked odd jobs, dead-end jobs or perhaps never held down a job at all. For them, looking for a career during recovery is the next step in a long process of finding new meaning and purpose in life.
The best careers for addicts fresh out of rehab and with no prior work history may be a little different than careers for people without substance abuse disorder. You may need different working conditions than folks who don’t share a similar history. And that’s okay — you need to take time to find out what works for you.
As you start your job search, keep the following in mind. Look for a job with:
• Regular hours: Regular hours help keep your days running on a predictable pattern. They also make it easier to schedule meetings and recovery time around your work schedule.
• Routine tasks: Routines are important for people in recovery. Jobs that have steady, routine tasks or predictable patterns are better for those in recovery than jobs with a lot of upheaval or rapidly changing tasks.
• Reasonable working conditions: Reasonable working conditions include a commute you can handle, a personal space that matches your fitness level and tasks you can reliably handle.
• Clear expectations: Clear boundaries and expectations help you feel secure and confident. They also relieve stress and help you understand what’s needed. Knowing what to expect, how to accomplish what you’re asked to do, and who is in the chain of command at your job are all aspects of having and meeting clear expectations.
• Room for growth: Not all jobs offer room for growth and promotion, but those that do will give you a sense of achievement. You’ll have something to strive for, and clear benchmarks to reach, on your journey to a promotion.
Even if you have big dreams or plans for your life, you need to take a sequence of small steps in order to get there. Start small, do your best, work hard and know that most employers care more about what you can do now than what happened in your past.
Best Careers for Addicts: Recovery-Related Careers
One area that often attracts people in recovery is recovery-related careers. Working at a rehab center, learning how to be an addiction counselor or working in the healing arts is very appealing for people who have benefited from the healing touch of others.
You may have noticed during your stay in rehab that many of the staff members at 12 Keys are recovered addicts themselves. Recovered addicts understand what other addicts are going through, and are the best people to help. Their wisdom, strength, hope and encouragement are what can help newly sober people get through the initial withdrawal crisis and learn to live without substances.
But before you jump into a career in addiction and recovery, consider all the ways in which your experience can help. It’s not just being a counselor that counts.
Careers that help your fellow recovering addicts include:
• Addiction counselors: Psychologists, social workers and other personal counselors often find a niche in recovery work.
• Spiritual teachers: Others find that their insights during recovery make them well-suited for spiritual work such as pastors, personal coaches, mentors and other spiritual counselors.
• Therapists: Occupational therapists, physical therapists, art therapists, dance and music therapists, etc. — there are many therapies that may include things you love and ways in which you can give back to the recovery community.
• Physical health: Nutritionists, yoga instructors, personal trainers and others may help people recover physically from illness and trauma.
• Teachers: Teachers who have been through recovery offer their students a great deal of insight and compassion. They can also spot students who may be having drug or alcohol problems, and help them into recovery. Good teachers are role models, mentors and coaches, and they can play an invaluable role in the lives of their students.
These are just a few ideas for jobs that appeal to recovered addicts, and for which people in recovery may be well-suited.
Navigating the Job Interview
As you prepare for your job search, you may wonder how to navigate the inevitable gaps on your resume. Even if you were employed before entering rehab, the time spent in a rehab center may create gaps on a chronological or time-based resume. These resumes list jobs in time order, from your last position held to the earliest position. A gap can be noticeable.
There are a few ways to get around gaps due to rehab stays or addiction problems. First, you can simply list on your resume the dates when you were unemployed and note, “Medical Absence” or something similar if you wish. Addiction is a disease, and time spent in recovery is time spent healing from your disease, so it qualifies as a medical leave.
Another way that some people in recovery deal with gaps on their resumes is to create a skills-based resume instead of a chronological resume. This helps when you don’t have a lengthy work history, or your work history jumps around a lot. Skills-based resumes list the major career skills you have and then provide details about each.
Lastly, you can simply leave employment dates off of your resume. This is actually becoming a popular resume style. Simply leave your dates of employment off of your resume, listing only the places where you’ve worked, your job titles and your qualifications and experience.
Jobs Where Your Past History Doesn’t Count
Many entry-level positions help you acquire useful job skills and don’t rely upon past experience to help you land the job. These jobs include:
• Temporary jobs: A temp agency can place you into different jobs so that you can get a feel for various offices, industries and working conditions. If you’re good with computers, type accurately and quickly and have a pleasant phone manner, then jobs as a receptionist, administrative assistant and other office jobs are open to you. Some jobs can lead to full-time work, called “temp-to-permanent.” Another plus of working temp jobs is that you can specify which days you are available. If you have recovery appointments or workshops to attend, you can fit your work around these dates.
• Restaurant work: It can be long hours and grueling work, so it’s not for everyone, but servers and kitchen help are always in demand, and there are plenty of restaurants that do not serve alcohol. They usually welcome entry-level people and train you on-the-job.
• Construction and trades: Another place where hard work counts more than your past history is on a construction crew. Crews building houses, office buildings and malls often look for hourly workers and are willing to train on-the-job. Although the work will put you outdoors in all sorts of weather, and you’ll need to be physically fit enough for the job, it’s an entry-level job that trains you as you go and offers a decent starting salary for motivated workers.
For every one of these jobs there are probably 10 more out there with similar characteristics. Entry-level work that offers you training, a steady paycheck and the chance to gain job skills will help you slowly but surely rebuild your life as you proceed in your recovery.
Not every job that you take right after recovery has to lead to a career. You may need a job just to pay the bills while you figure out what you’d like to do with your life. Some people need more time to figure out their career or calling than others.
It may help to talk over your options with a counselor or program friends to make sure that your old character defects explored during your Fourth Step inventory aren’t coming back to hinder you from starting your career. Sometimes, talking to a friend can be a mirror in which you can see your own shortcomings more easily, reflect on them and take steps to correct them.
Going Back to School
Big dreams often require further education. If addiction interrupted your education, returning to school to complete your degree so that you can return to the workforce may be your next step.
Most schools will be very accommodating and understanding of students who took a leave of absence to heal from their addiction. Today’s colleges and universities welcome a diverse student body that includes returning students, adult students and part-time students.
Flexible class schedules can also make it possible for recovering addicts to fit school into a busy schedule of working and recovery work. Many colleges now offer evening classes, Saturday courses and online courses. Online courses can be completed either from your home, or partially from home, with some hours on campus.
There’s no expiration date on learning. Even if you’ve been away from a classroom for years, if your dreams take you back to school, you can be assured you’re not alone. There’s probably another recovering addict alongside you, and there certainly have been many others who’ve walked the path before you.
The Best Careers for Addicts Are Careers That Fulfill You and Give Back
There’s no one-size-fits-all career for recovering addicts. You may love the arts and long for a career where you can use your skills in music, dancing or painting to brighten the lives of others and express your emotions. Your friend in recovery may find that the analytical work of computer programming or accounting suits her need for order and routine. Both of you have ideal careers, but they’re different.
As a recovering addict, you’ve got a lot to offer the world. Right now you may feel like nobody will want to hire you. But the truth is, many companies actually prefer to hire people in recovery. They know that anyone who has successfully embraced recovery is someone who wants to embrace a healthy lifestyle. They don’t hold your past against you, and they look forward to seeing what you can contribute.
Start Your New Life Now at 12 Keys
If drugs, alcohol or other substances have made it impossible for you to finish school or continue your career, help is available. At 12 Keys, we understand what it’s like for you and are here to help you start your recovery.
We’re located along the Florida waterfront in a quiet, comfortable setting. Once you give us a call, we’ll ask you some questions over the phone to get to know you better and to understand what kind of help you might need. Then we’ll arrange transportation to and from 12 Keys so you won’t have to worry about how to get here.
Someone will greet you when you’re here and help you get to know the facility and the staff. You’ll spend a few days detoxing from the substances you’ve been abusing. We know that you might be anxious or worried about this step, but trust us — we don’t want you to be uncomfortable during the process. Dr. Balta, our physician who specializes in addiction and recovery, will make sure you stay healthy, safe and as comfortable as possible during detox.
After detox, you’ll start your recovery work with a schedule created just for you. Everyone attends some form of therapy, as well as 12 Step recovery meetings, and there are additional therapies we recommend for people based on their needs. You may be invited to participate in EMDR, a new therapy to release trauma, or have extra group or individual counseling sessions added to your schedule.
Every day, you’ll work on your recovery with plenty of time to reflect, rest and just get to know everyone here. The grounds are beautiful, and there’s time to take a walk, enjoy a swim or get some healthy exercise. Meals are included, and feature lots of tasty options.
Rehab is hard work, but we do take time to play. We go on trips that include horseback riding, kayaking and other adventures to help you learn more about yourself and to help us get to know you.
When you’re ready to leave 12 Keys, we’ll work with you to create an aftercare plan that will help you return to your daily life and continue recovery on your own.
To get started, please contact 12 Keys Rehab today.