Returning to Work after Working on Recovery, The Road Back

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When it is determined that someone does have a problem and they need help then question I love to hear is “what do I have to do to get better?” The question I get most often is “when I am going back to work?” The answer to the second question is in the first question. When the employee does what is necessary for recovery then the risk is minimized. With good action and some alcohol or drug testing the process is set up for the employee to return to work.

Company boundaries dictate to the employee that they are required to change prior to returning to work can be hard for the employee to accept. The employee may balk at this suggestion. This is why everyone involved must be educated and understand that the process of being out of work to get recovery is for the individual’s own good as well as the safety and due diligence of the company.

I have seen situations where the employee starts complaining to anyone who will listen and manages to get supervisors or union representatives worked up trying to speed things up. You may be dealing with someone that is used to getting what they want by whining and complaining. They reason that people whine and complain is that it has worked in the past.

The two greatest positive signs that I can see in an employee who is working on themselves is action and attitude. They are doing something to help themselves and they also are feeling better about the changes. When employees are grateful for the chance to change I believe that they are on the right track. Gratitude and action together shows me that they are moving ahead.  This does not happen overnight so the employer has to have strong boundaries about returning to work until certain actions are fulfilled.

A lifetime of thinking one way does not change in a short time but sometimes personal transformations are amazing.  I knew a man personally who 31 years ago turned from one of the most cranky resentful, hateful people into one of the most spiritual and happy people I know now. He drank daily for 20 years prior to his change. He now works hard to help others even at 84 years old. Change like this happens but usually not that quickly or dramatically.

On the other hand, it seems like some employees act like they are waiting for some outside force to change them without any effort on their part.  Their inaction shows me that they are not motivated to change and don’t really want to put any effort into the process. I have to conclude that it has not become bad enough for them to want to stop. They don’t understand that they need help. Needing and wanting are two different things.

People are people and what they say they are going to do they don’t always do. Some people are moved to change when the pressure is on but after that their effort dwindles. What is said today is not necessarily done tomorrow and people change their mind.  I have found that the process in assessing people returning to work cannot be a dogmatic and inflexible procedure based on power. That is not helpful to anyone. Many situations can develop when a person is asked to take the initiative to get help and sometimes we just have to give some solid direction and wait to see what happens. I have had some interesting cases over the years for sure.

What I look for are characteristics and behavior in the employee that shows or starts to show that good change is taking place. My question that I ask myself is this: “Does this person have a reasonable chance of not using drugs or alcohol when they return to work?” The idea here is “reasonable. The process must be fluid while taking into account what the employee does. Are they moving away from drug usage or back to it?

Enabling, the long road ahead.

So many people that I talk to have told me that they wished that they did not start down that road with an addict. Now they feel it is too late. One friend of mine buys cigarettes, alcohol and grass for his own 20 something son. He also pays his rent, high cell phone charges and hires lawyers to keep him out of jail. He also takes physical and mental abuse from this son he thinks he is helping. He is most times on edge wondering what the next crises will be. I foresee a very bad ending either for the son or my friend. Obscene and crazy you say? Ask yourself if you are doing anything to keep the addict from seeing their problems and try to see how it ended up this way. You see that you willingly let yourself be pulled along a path of bad help. Get some good information and learn how to get out of this trap before it hauls you in and sucks the life out of you like it is doing to my friend.

So, the term co-dependent is apt and accurate. It takes two (there may be many more) to form this sick relationship and it just gets worse and worse. When I question and expose it as bad help sometimes a bull’s eye on my head because I am upsetting strong systems and former beliefs by getting enablers to look at themselves. They don’t ever want to look at themselves because the sick addict has been the patient not them. “Don’t look at me!  I am the good one here! I am the victim, leave me alone!” Normal for a codependent, but yes, wrong if you want the addict to recover. The bad help has to go. They cannot bear that thought that they are perhaps part of the problem. Silly me for suggesting this.

Bosses, supervisors, society, parents, doctors, counsellors, spouses and children can all be sucked into this trap and I find my self fighting with this invisible monster which is helping to keep addicts the way they are. It is awful when it is seen for what it is and it is hard to rally against it without someone getting their feathers severely ruffled.

How Do You Know if Your Employee is an Addict or Alcoholic

You don’t and you should not care either. If someone is working for you or you are managing them and they are doing a good job you have no reason to get into their business. On the other hand if someone is continually in the limelight for issues you may want to know if it is substance abuse related especially if there are signs. That could be dangerous and contrary to due diligence principles to ignore abuse of drugs or alcohol.

What are the signs? There are lots of them and you can look at this template on my web site or find your own.  under the heading for supervisors.

The main thing is that you concern yourself with the safety aspect of substance abuse. There may be subtle signs that over time spell trouble for your organization and the employee.

Action is the Magic Word


When I first see an employee for an assessment, I can’t tell from one meeting what the employee is going to do in the future. Some employees give the appearance of understanding that they need help but that can change when the meeting is over. Some talk a good talk but it is their action on the problem that tells me what they really think. I can’t predict the future but I can reasonably assume that if they have really caught on to some aspect of recovery that they look like they will continue this way. Sometimes they don’t. I look for action and some type of attitude change. I may ask during a follow up interview “What are you doing today that makes it reasonable for me to assume that you are not going back to your drug of choice?” I try to find out what is different this time. When I do ask this question I feel like I have heard every excuse that there is already until I hear new ones. I also listen to sincere promises from people based on what they are going to do in the future without having anything up to that point. Where is the action to go with that promise? There is the key to it.


Consequences for the Addict – Why They are Your Friend

Consequences for the Addict – Why They are Your Friend

The addict, if they continue with their drug, usually gets into some type of trouble.  Examples would be, money problems, failing health, personal relationship problems, jail time, lost license, excessive sick days etc. In the past you may have responded to the addict and their issues by using up lots of energy yourself.  You may have felt turmoil and feel you must help the addict because somehow that is what you are supposed to do. This is what you have always done.

What society is not aware of that consequences are very important for the addict and that they actually can have the effect of pushing them to want them to get better. It is precisely the consequences that help the addict to see what is going on. If there are no consequences to one’s behavior then there is nothing that will get the addict see what they are doing and they won’t change. They actually need the consequences to be able to see that they, themselves, are the problem. If you keep the addict from experiencing consequences then you become are part of the problem.

Addicts Recover Because They Feel The Heat

Addicts don’t recover because they see the light; they recover because they feel the heat! They hit a bottom that causes them to think about changing. The bottom may be something very simple like being disciplined at work. This is how it happens.  Businesses learn how to say no to addictive behaviour in the workplace through their new understanding, policies and actions. Doing nothing is the worst plan. It is about recognizing the problem, setting boundaries and sticking to them. The addict is changed because they finally have to face themselves. The workplace can help where no one else can. There can be no argument with this philosophy as long as the process is enacted fairly and communicated thoroughly. Understand that there is a solution even if the addict does not want to change. The solution may be that the addict sobers up or goes somewhere else to work.

Workplace Can Help Where Others Can’t

There is usually still allot of potential in an employee who is sent to for a substance abuse assessment. They are not down and out and usually have family support at some level. They have money coming it and have the appearance of a normal life. They have resources to aid in their recovery. I find that this is an excellent time to work with an employee that has a problem. Sometimes they don’t think so but I still do.

The workplace can be a place of support for employees in another way as well. Due to safety regulations and also testing the workplace can act as a deterrent for a person who does use alcohol and drugs in any sort of a problematic way.  If the policy mandates reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion testing workers realize that they may be caught if they use. Knowing that there may be consequences to one’s behavior helps to create a more healthy thought process in the employee and also aids in reinforcing a culture of safety. It acts as a deterrence measure. Rather than be an invasion of human rights it is a boundary set by the workplace that is actually a win-win situation for all. The workplace becomes safer and the employee has to think hard about using substances.

Due Diligence in the Workplace

Due diligence Due diligence is the level of judgement, care, prudence, determination, and activity that a person would reasonably be expected to do under particular circumstances. Applied to occupational health and safety, due diligence means that employers shall take all reasonable precautions, under the particular circumstances, to prevent injuries or accidents in the workplace. This duty also applies to situations that are not addressed elsewhere in the occupational health and safety legislation. To exercise due diligence, an employer must implement a plan to identify possible workplace hazards and carry out the appropriate corrective action to prevent accidents or injuries arising from these hazards. (CSOHS)

If you know that there is a potential dangerous situation and you fail to make it known to the proper people and something bad happens, you could be held accountable.

We all need a little help

Often times those around the addict do not realize that they need some help as well. It is easy to blames one’s troubles on a sick person because that way they don’t have to look at themselves and their actions. Like the addict, they are slowly drawn into dysfunctional thinking and behaving and the longer it goes on the harder it is to pull out.  Making excuses for the addicted one is a primary example of dysfunctional behaviour. There is no reason to expect the addict to change if they have excuses all around them for what they are doing. “Poor so in so, they had a hard life. No wonder they use drugs and drink.” Bullshit. They maybe did have a very hard life but it is possible to change but not if everyone is making excuses.  The reason that I know this is because I know tons of people who have had a bad life but they changed.  Humans are more resilient than the media portrays. If they have the “want to” then they can find the “how to” but until then it can be a sad ride, especially if there are those who make it impossible for the addict to have a crash landing and finally see themselves.

Addiction is a Safety Issue

craftsmen-1020156_960_720Undertaking addiction assessments on employees that have found themselves in this procedure has been my work since 1995 when new safety regulations that govern the transportation industry came into effect. I have assessed many employees for addiction. The intent was to assess and to make a decision based on the assessment if the employee needed help prior to returning to work for safety and due diligence purposes. Some were addicts and some were not. Some needed help and some did not. The types of people I have dealt with have ranged from the sensible and cooperative to the loud and hostile. Some of the employees had not faced limits and boundaries regarding their alcohol and drug usage prior to running into the procedure. They either never heard the word “no” or they were able through manipulation to get around the word “no” in some way that has worked for them in the past.  I had to deal with habitual behavior that was hurting the person and had possible safety implications for themselves and others.  Slowly, however, when an employee sees that the workplace is firm on its committment to a safe envirnonment they can make a choice for themselves.