Can You Go to Rehab If You Have a Job?
Addiction to drugs or alcohol can prove to be extremely destructive. It can have a major impact on your physical and mental health, but it can also tear families apart and damage relationships of all kinds – whether these are with family members, partners, loved ones, friends or even bosses and colleagues at work.
Addiction can essentially ‘rewire’ the brain and change the way it deals with things like reward, pleasure and impulse control. It is characterised by a compulsion to continue to use the substance, even when you know there will be negative consequences.
A dependency on drugs or alcohol can also see you build up a tolerance, meaning you need to use more and more for the same effect, while a range of unpleasant and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms could occur when you suddenly cut down or stop using the substance. All this makes addiction incredibly difficult to deal with on your own or without professional help.
Addiction can be successfully treated through rehabilitation – commonly known as rehab – which is the most effective way to deal with a serious addiction problem. A residential rehab programme involves staying at the facility for a number of weeks however, what do you do if you have a job?
Addiction and employment laws
There are a number of laws and regulations dealing with issues such as substance misuse in the workplace. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) says that many employers will now treat drug and alcohol dependence as an illness and frame their alcohol and drug policies with a focus on rehabilitation.
Employers must also follow relevant regulations, including:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – section 2 – This places a duty on an employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, “the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees”.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – This places a duty on the employer to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees. An employer can be prosecuted if they knowingly allow an employee to continue working while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and their behaviour places the employee themselves or others at risk.
Other pieces of legislation, such as the Transport and Works Act 1992, pertain to specific workplaces and situations, such as making it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drugs and/or drink while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems.
Addiction is not considered to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, but an employee could have a physical or mental impairment that was caused by addiction (such as liver disease or a serious depressive illness), or the addiction could be a symptom or side effect of some other medical condition from which the employee is suffering.
Talking about addiction at work
It can be very difficult to talk about, especially at work, but it can be a positive step forward to raise any problems you are having with HR or your line manager, especially if they are already having an impact on your performance or attendance.
Responsible employers may have formal drug and alcohol policies in place that are very supportive. It can be in the employer’s best interest to help you as it can be more expensive to replace and train a new employee from scratch.
Even the most progressive employers are unlikely to pay for private residential rehab but they may offer support in terms of allowing time off, encouraging rehabilitation and signposting to resources including the NHS and private alternatives. Some private medical insurance policies might also cover or help with the costs of private rehab.
It’s also worth remembering that drug and alcohol dependence are recognised medical issues, which means you have the same right to confidentiality and support when raising these issues as you would with any other illness or condition. If you have such a dependency, it is important to get a diagnosis. You may then qualify for sickness pay and leave when undergoing rehab treatment.
Inpatient and outpatient rehab
There are two main types of drug and alcohol rehab. With outpatient rehab, which is the type commonly offered via NHS-backed drug and alcohol services, you typically stay in your own home and attend appointments and treatment sessions at clinics, surgeries and other locations. This does mean that you may be able to seek treatment while remaining at work, but there are some major drawbacks.
It can be difficult to remain motivated and attend appointments if you are living a chaotic lifestyle, or if your substance misuse makes you unreliable. You are likely to be surrounded by all the triggers and temptations associated with your usual drinking or drug use. You may have to undergo detox with minimal supervision and this may require time off work. An outpatient programme also typically takes much longer as eth treatments are more spread out and less focused.
With inpatient rehab, you ‘live in’ at the facility, so you do have to take time away from work and other responsibilities. You will be in a safe environment away from all those triggers, however, with the support of a dedicated team of recovery professionals and the opportunity to undergo medically assisted detox.
A stay in rehab will typically take 28 days (although it may be longer or shorter) and you will undergo a focused treatment programme aimed at addressing every part of your substance misuse and addiction.
As well as detox, a holistic rehab programme will include a range of treatments and therapies that will help you to explore the root causes of your addiction and develop strategies to avoid relapse after the main rehab programme has finished. A tailored aftercare programme can also provide you with the vital support you need in those crucial months afterwards.
Some employers will support you through rehab and may be happy for you to take four weeks or so off work, especially if your work improves along with a successful recovery. Even if not, recovery is the most important thing, and you should base any decision on treatment on what suits you best and is most likely to result in a full and long-lasting recovery.