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Employment is a necessity for most people and can also be very challenging. For individuals in recovery, it can be difficult to maintain sobriety in the workplace.
Most individuals spend the majority of their day at work. Therefore it’s only natural to develop relationships with colleagues. It would be fair to say that one of your coworkers may ask you to unwind from a long day at the office by joining them for a drink.
You know that you cannot drink, but you may be embarrassed to speak up about your sobriety or maybe you don’t want to offend your colleague. Should you be honest and tell your job that you are sober? Will your coworkers view you differently if you decline the offer to grab a drink?
One of the most common challenges in sobriety is learning to be social while also maintaining your sobriety—especially in the workplace. This may seem impossible, but with a premeditated plan in place, you can thrive in your workplace.
Here are 4 tips on how to deal with drinking in the workplace while staying sober in the workplace.
Delicately Speak the Truth
A common question—for someone early in recovery - is generally whether or not the individual should disclose his/ her sobriety.
Disclosing your troubles with alcohol and newfound sobriety can be difficult—especially with your colleagues. You are not required to share your sobriety with anyone, simply because it’s your business. However, eventually, your coworkers will be curious as to why you never drink or go out with them. Your avoidance will only provoke their curiosity.
It is best to address these questions with caution and tact. Be sure to keep your responses short, to the point, and try adding a little humor in your response. Some examples include:
- “I have maximized my quota.”
- “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
- “You would not want to work with me if I was still drinking.”
You may be asked many questions in regards to your decision to seek professional help. It’s okay to respond to those questions in a confident and friendly manner. Hold up the truth, with love and caution. Do not feel pressured to disclose all of the less than favorable details. This is your life, your sobriety, and you have a right to disclose what you choose to.
Preparation is Key
Once you regain employment, it’s not uncommon for the invitations to work parties, happy hours, and wine and dining start to flood your inbox. You don’t have to let the pressures of work gatherings to lead you to relapse. Preparation is key.
It is absolutely normal to feel uncomfortable and awkward when you are invited to wine-down from work at the local bar. If you do not feel comfortable, it is also absolutely okay to create healthy boundaries.
However, if you make the decision to join your colleagues - be prepared for a few possible situations.
- Always order your own drinks from the bar. Do not ever make yourself vulnerable by having someone who is not in recovery to order drinks for you.
- It may make you feel more comfortable to keep a club soda, RedBull, or sparkling water in your hand as you socialize.
- If there are other non-drinkers at the gathering, introduce yourself. Don’t let your discomfort ruin the night. It’s okay to attend these events, as long as your motives are pure.
- If you feel vulnerable or tempted to drink - leave immediately. You can always send out a mass text to your friends afterward. You do not have to feel guilty or even tell anyone the reason why you left. Put your sobriety first, always.
Surround Yourself With Support
It has always been vital for your sobriety to maintain a program of recovery. If no one at your job knows you are in recovery, take some time to step outside and call someone in your support system. If you’re having a bad or stressful day - take time to reach out and ask for help.
It may not be easy to find other individuals in recovery, within your workplace. However, you can turn to friends and colleagues that are aware of your decision to pursue recovery for support.
It is also important to find out if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a resource for employees. Make an appointment to meet with them and ask what recovery-related programs and resources they have to offer.
Know Your Rights As an Employee
Financial insecurity is a major stressor for someone who is newly sober and employed. One of the most common and stressful questions that weigh on the mind of the individual is ‘Will I get fired because I have to go to treatment?’ or ‘Will I get fired for going to an AA meeting?’
The answer to these questions may vary depending on your employer and specific to your individual situation. In all cases, active drug/alcohol abuse can often be a reason for termination. However, despite social stigmas on addiction, many companies have policies that favor an individual struggling with substance abuse and need treatment.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a ton of great resources regarding federal laws put in place to protect against discrimination in the workplace, job training, housing, healthcare, and educational opportunities.
It’s important to educate yourself on laws including Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Workforce Investment Act. Educating and familiarizing yourself with these laws will give you peace of mind upon returning to work, seeking treatment, and provide you with information on policies and procedures.