Supporting an employee seeking substance abuse treatment

Supporting an employee seeking substance abuse treatment

I have written recently about two difficult and complicated issues facing employers today: alcohol and opioid abuse. The hope is that increased awareness of the issues involved when an employee struggles with substance abuse will increase the chances that he or she can receive treatment and successfully return to their job and a healthy, more fulfilling life.

For this to happen, however, employees with substance abuse issues will often need to leave work temporarily to attend a treatment program. For many, this will include a period of inpatient treatment.

As an employer, you can be a supportive part of this process. By working with a disability provider that has expertise in the complex issues involved in these situations, you can offer much-needed assistance to the employee while maintaining critical boundaries.

Seeking treatment
According to recent research, 22.5 million people (8.5 percent of the U.S. population) aged 12 or older needed treatment for a drug or alcohol use problem in 2014. Only 4.2 million people (18.5 percent of those who needed treatment) received any substance use treatment in the same year. Of these, about 2.6 million people received treatment at specialty treatment facilities.1

For many employees struggling with chemical dependency issues, initiating treatment is one of the most difficult parts of the whole process. Shame, fear of failure and concern for the impact rehab could have on his or her career progress are all hurdles to overcome.

Navigating a return to work
In addition to those concerns, employees returning to work following inpatient treatment for chemical dependency can face additional challenges. Pre-existing conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are often masked by chronic substance use and can emerge as an additional barrier to a successful return to work. Not only that, there also may be complications at home, in social relationships and at work that could delay an employee’s recovery.

This is where a disability carrier with expertise in behavioral health and substance abuse conditions can provide assistance. For instance, behavioral health consultants from the Workplace Possibilities℠ program can help employers by:

  • Reviewing an employee’s claim
  • Connecting with him or her about their condition, treatment plan and goals
  • Discussing any extenuating circumstances (family issues, financial concerns, legal problems, etc.) they may be facing

This interaction can help determine what may be necessary for an employer to consider as part of an employee’s return to work. This outreach is usually conducted early on in an employee’s leave, which can help engage him or her during an important time during the disability leave. This type of ongoing support also can be essential in helping to ensure an employee doesn’t relapse after completing treatment.

Setting expectations
It is important for you to recognize that the employee could be particularly vulnerable and feel like everything is going wrong, especially during the first several months back on the job.

However, there can be some surprising benefits to working with an employee who is actively involved in recovery. Participation in a rehabilitation program, and subsequent involvement in psychotherapy and recovery meetings, often brings about a renewed sense of personal accountability. People in recovery are encouraged to work on all aspects of themselves and to improve their lives to maintain abstinence from their substance of choice. And, people in recovery have a lot of recent practice in constructively receiving and implementing feedback.

The road to recovery can be a long one, and there can certainly be some difficult detours along the way. With the help of an understanding, knowledgeable employer, and a disability provider with state-of-the-art expertise, it can be a satisfying journey.

[1] Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2016, https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.pdf.

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