Preparing to return to work after rehab

Completing an addiction treatment program is a great accomplishment and something for which you should feel great pride. At the same time, you are probably a bit apprehensive thinking about returning to work, especially if you’re coming back to the same job. You may have many concerns about what to expect. Or, you may be worried about how to talk to your boss and coworkers. This is a big step, but it’s one that you can take one day at a time. With a plan in place, you can successfully transition back into the workplace with your head held high. Here are four tips for returning to work after rehab:

1. Make a plan

You may be eager to jump right back into your job; however, it’s best to ease back in by having a plan in place before doing so. Your plan could be as detailed or as minimal as you like, and you can work on it by yourself, with a trusted loved one, or with your therapist. Your plan will be customized to fit your unique situation, but will probably address things like:

What to do if coworkers ask about your recovery, provided they know.

If coworkers don’t know why you were gone, how will you handle explaining your extended absence? People generally will ask questions.

How will you handle triggering or unexpected situations? If you know what you will do or how you will handle an issue in advance, then you won’t be caught off guard, which gives you a greater sense of control.

Remember, when creating your plan, write it down and be specific. Neuropsychologists’ research shows that this practice will make you more likely to achieve your goals

2. Decide in advance what to tell coworkers

This may be the biggest stressor for anyone facing a return to work after addiction treatment. Confidentiality is paramount in any addiction recovery program, but ultimately the decision about “coming clean” is owned by the affected individual and no one else.

Returning to the workforce will be far easier when you confidently know how you’re going to respond to your peers, superiors, and subordinates when faced with that inevitable question: “Where have you been?”

3. Develop a structured routine

As you go back to work, it may seem strange at first because you’ve been used to being in rehab where everything was scheduled for you—your day was regimented. Now, it may seem like your whole day is a big open space. You don’t have to let it be that way. Fill that space by developing a new routine. You’ll already have your work schedule routine in place, so you’re only dealing with the time before/after work and the days you don’t work. It’s helpful to have “something” to go into those time slots for now so that you’re not idle and tempted to use substances again. Your morning routine could consist of things like:

Eat a healthy breakfast.

Take time for meditation, prayer, reading, or gentle stretching.

Spend time bonding with loved ones or pets that you reside with, or call someone special for a morning greeting.

Get a coffee on the way to work.

On days off, your routine will include connecting with a recovery support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Celebrate Recovery. Your time away from work will look different from before your time in rehab, but you can fill it with things that will make you feel happy, loved, and supported. Before long, you will have developed a whole new way of living.

4. Avoid triggers

During therapy, you probably learned about triggers. Triggers are things, events, or emotions that trigger a strong desire to use a substance. You may have even explored what particular things are triggers for you. If not, an aftercare rehab program will help you address these issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment in combatting triggers and relapses. However, until you get to the point where you feel comfortable in the presence of a triggering event or emotion, it is best to try to avoid them. Some common triggers include:

Too much stress;

Not enough sleep;


Being around others who are using substances recreationally.

These are just a few, but you will have your own triggers unique to you.

One principle to use to combat triggers and relapse is the HALT method. Don’t allow yourself to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

Even though returning to work after rehab can feel scary, try to focus on the extraordinary achievement you’ve made instead of homing in on worries. Recovery is a time of intense change, and it’s not an overnight process. Be patient with yourself, take it slowly and ease yourself back into a job. Working hard is one of the best ways to build self-esteem and distract yourself from unhelpful thoughts and feelings that might lead to drug or alcohol abuse.

If you or a friend or loved one is seeking assistance for a substance abuse problem, please call TARP at 1-800-522-8277, or TAP at 1-800-253-8326.