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Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

Guide to finding a job after rehab

16 min read
Guide to finding a job after rehab
Artwork by:Katya Vakulenko
Putting your life back together following treatment for a substance use disorder is comparable to a full-time job. How can you manage an actual job search simultaneously after rehab? Here, we explore the challenges and rewards of reentering the workforce while recovery remains your top priority.

No matter how daunting it might seem, there are many reasons to be optimistic about reentering the workforce after completing a rehabilitation program. The long-term benefits of both achievements are mutually reinforcing on the recovery journey towards a stable and fulfilling life. 

Granted, it may not be easy finding a job after rehab. But with patience, determination, and a commitment to sobriety, the right job search strategies have every chance of success.

We’ve put together some insights and guidance to help job seekers get hired after rehab. Here’s what we’ll discuss:

  • Benefits of employment after rehab
  • Challenges of finding a job after rehab
  • Post-rehab job search strategies, steps and tips

What’s the rush to start working again?

The desire to start working again as soon as possible after completing rehab is not uncommon. This may be motivated by the need to establish a new routine that will also include regular support group attendance, developing healthy habits, and rebuilding social relationships. Obviously, financial independence is often an early priority after rehab, and with that comes a renewed sense of purpose.

Statistical insight

Research results published in the Journal of Substance Use & Addiction Treatment revealed that employment is a top life priority for people in all stages of recovery. Responses to a survey question about 13 “current life priorities” ranked employment as the second most important, with recovery from substance abuse (staying clean) being No. 1.

Benefits of employment after rehab

The evidence of post-rehab employment being beneficial for those with substance use disorders (SUD) is compelling. It consistently affirms the positive psychological and social impact on workers in recovery while reintegrating into daily routines. In fact, it can be a win-win on both sides of the hiring equation. 

According to an extensive report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Sustained recovery is significantly tied to meaningful and purposeful work-life balance.” This study found that work is one of the best predictors of these positive outcomes for those in recovery: lower recurrence rates, higher abstinence rates, less criminal activity, fewer parole violations, improved quality of life, and more successful transition from long-term residential treatment back into the community.  

It’s also not uncommon for some employers to favor hiring people in recovery, believing they have a lot to offer in the workplace —  notably skills from previous jobs and roles. They are less likely than other employees to take time off from work, motivated by the chance to regain and rebuild their life. 

Challenges of finding a job after rehab

The post-rehab rebuilding process encompasses your whole life, not just your career. “It is relearning to live in sobriety, and can be a full-time job,” says AddictionHope contributor Libby Lyons

Not surprisingly, people in recovery face some unique job search challenges. First, the stress of not having a job can negatively affect your mental health and make you more susceptible to relapse. Returning to your previous job carries relapse risks too, since your past workplace stressors are likely still present. You must also be prepared to answer the inevitable “where have you been?” question from colleagues.

Your new job quest may be hampered by employment gaps in your resume or skills deficits. The setbacks and disappointments can dampen your morale, just as it affects people with no SUD-related struggles. The more time-consuming and exhausting your job search becomes, the harder it might be to keep up with support group attendance and other recovery activities.

Where do you start?

Determining when to become re-employed after rehab goes hand-in-hand with mapping out the steps in your strategy. It’s vital to take some time to regroup first in relation to your recovery employment goals — “sober reflection” if you will.

Self-assessment 

Embrace the opportunity to take stock of your strengths, aspirations, and accomplishments. Approach this assets inventory as an open-minded brainstorming exercise. Keep a list handy and keep your memories, thoughts and ideas flowing freely. Think about your:

  • Previous jobs. What did you like and dislike? What skills did you develop? Would you take your last position back if you could?
  • Life experiences. What about roles you’ve taken on as a student, parent, friend, neighbor, or citizen? In recovery? How did you contribute and what transferable skills were involved?
  • Interests and passions. What hobbies or personal interests do you enjoy? What would you like to learn — even just for fun? These insights could lead to surprising new career paths.
  • Feedback from others. What would your friends, family members, or mentors have to say about your talents and personal qualities? Your rehab peers?
  • Future goals. What kind of employment aligns with your personal goals and supports your recovery journey?
  • Emotional readiness. Are you equipped to handle potential challenges at work and stay committed to sobriety?

What next?

For anyone starting fresh with a new job after rehab, rather than returning to the same employer, these steps come next. 

Craft a recovery-friendly resume

Regardless of your employment history, qualifications, and current circumstances, a well-crafted resume plays to your strengths as they align with the specific job you are applying for. Each customized version must match the posted job description and the employer’s needs. Emphasize your relevant experience, accomplishments, and transferable skills from a slightly different angle each time.

A job-winning resume is one that convinces hiring managers you’re the best fit. You’re in the right place for expert advice on how to create one! Resume.io’s abundant information on job search best practices includes 350+ occupation-specific resume examples and writing guides.

Revisit the self-assessment notes you made. Consider anything you’ve learned and contributed, in and outside the workplace. Everything counts if it’s relevant and valuable to the employer.

Your experiences in rehab may be relevant to some job applications — perhaps in relation to skills or your commitment to self-improvement. How candid you are in disclosing such information depends on the hiring situation and your comfort level. Ask a professional for advice.

Also be assured there is more than one way to address employment gaps in your resume, honestly, in a positive light. They are not necessarily a red flag for past SUD issues.

Today’s virtually level landscape for job hunting

E-technology has made today’s job search landscape leveler and vaster than ever before for all job seekers, including after rehab. The days of pounding the pavement, literally, are long gone. 

The internet is your Swiss army knife for unlocking job postings, plus preparing and submitting applications, communicating with employers, and dusting off interview skills. It’s your gateway for researching job market trends and and in-demand skills, pinpointing gaps in your qualifications. Then it can also be your virtual learning path to fill those gaps through online training, education, mentoring, or certification.

Complete guide to job search methods
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Complete guide to job search methods

Searching for a new job can be a daunting task. This job search guide to the digital job market of 2023 can help you come up with a successful plan to find the job that’s right for you (including finding unlisted jobs and job searching with no experience).

Where to look

Besides browsing the new listings on various generic online job post platforms, check out professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and the websites of prospective employers.

In addition, you’ll find plenty of organizations and programs geared to job seekers after rehab. Local unemployment offices and temp agencies are a good starting point. These agencies can also be a great source to find employers committed to giving people in recovery a second chance:

More to explore

  • Drug-Free Workplaces: Although not legally required for most private employers, some have voluntarily adopted policies to prevent substance misuse or give second chances to post-rehab job applicants.
  • Recovery-Friendly Workplaces: At least five states have initiatives encouraging businesses to employ people in recovery and adopt recovery-oriented employment policies.
  • Client-Operated Businesses: Many businesses are started by entrepreneurs in recovery, wanting to offer post-rehab work opportunities for others.

Congrats! You’ve got an interview

There’s nothing like a job interview to boost your confidence! While relishing the well-deserved sense of accomplishment, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about meeting your interviewers face to face, in a video, or during a phone call

Again, there’s no shortage of online advice. Connecting with a recovery or career counselor is also encouraged. Besides interview coaching or practice sessions, seek advice on how to answer interview questions about your SUD and recovery — if it’s even necessary. 

Friends or family members can also help you rehearse answers to common interview questions. Stay focused on your strengths and their value to this specific employer.

Expert tip

Know your rights
What are hiring managers entitled to ask? Be assured that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulates certain interview questions that may concern you. 

  • Employers are not allowed to ask about the use of legal drugs, such as alcohol and prescribed medication, or about anything that would reveal your SUD (e.g. “How often did you use drugs in the past?”).
  • Employers are legally allowed to ask if you’ve ever used illegal drugs or have any criminal convictions.

For the most part, anyone in SUD recovery is protected from workplace and employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and several other applicable laws. 

What else?

As your job quest after rehab unfolds, it’s crucial to stay optimistic. Try to keep your expectations manageable. Here are some tips that can help your job search efforts after rehab stay on track and gain momentum.

  • Sobriety comes first. Recovery is a lifelong journey that must take precedence over everything else. Be mindful of your time and energy limitations while looking for a job and after getting hired.
  • Pursue part-time, temporary or gig work. Jobs with flexible work schedules can be a good way to earn money while accommodating your recovery priorities. Check out sectors like delivery services, hospitality or retail.
  • Network. Reach out to potential and past employers, friends, family members, and acquaintances, plus rehab team and support group members. You never know where tips, job leads and referrals might come from.
  • Connect with rehab alumni. Seek fellowship outside your own rehab circle with recovery peers who have found post-rehab employment success. For example, the Recovery Centers of America alumni program welcomes anyone in recovery, no matter where you received treatment.
  • Volunteer. Volunteering keeps you busy — an automatic mental and physical health bonus — while building valuable skills and connections. Volunteer experience is an impressive addition to your resume!
  • Seek personalized assistance. One-on-one guidance and support from career counselors or job placement officers can be invaluable.
  • Grow your skills and knowledge. Upskilling can pay off when hiring managers see continued learning initiatives on your resume. Refer to your self-assessment inventory to determine which skills best fit your employment goals.
Expert tip

Recovery-related careers can be a good fit for people with first-hand knowledge and experiences. Potential roles range from addiction counselor, peer specialist, and recovery coach, to social worker, author or public speaker. 

Key takeaways 

  1. Finding a job after rehab can be a challenging but highly rewarding experience. The renewed sense of purpose and stable routine can be extremely beneficial.
  2. A growing number of employers are open to hiring people who are in recovery after an SUD treatment program, and in fact appreciate the advantages of doing so.
  3. Embracing the opportunities for growth and demonstrating resilience during the job search process are key success factors, alongside your commitment to sobriety.
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