How to Explain Addiction to Your Boss

Written by Chloe Nicosia

If you’re wondering how to explain addiction to your boss, this guide will help.

The vast majority — 76 percent — of people who have a substance use disorder are employed, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Still, just 10 percent of the 23 million addicted Americans seek treatment for a substance use disorder, and one of the most common reasons why people shy away from treatment is that they’re afraid of losing their job. If you’re planning on going to rehab with a job but wonder how to explain addiction to your boss, these tips will help.

Educate Yourself

Unless you understand addiction yourself, it will be difficult to explain it to your boss. Before you talk to your boss, learn everything you can about addiction, including how it develops, how it changes brain function, and how it affects thought and behavior patterns.

The most important thing to understand is that while the initial decision to use drugs or alcohol involves choice, once an addiction develops, choice is no longer a factor. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use driven by the same powerful brain functions that lead us to eat food and procreate in order to survive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that willpower and good intentions are rarely enough to end an addiction for the long-term. Inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment is almost always needed.

Know Your Rights

Part of understanding how to explain addiction to your boss is understanding your rights. Before you talk to your boss, know your rights so that you can ensure your job is protected. If your boss doesn’t know what your rights are under the law, you can explain them and potentially save your job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, protects individuals with disabilities, and substance use disorders are included on this list. The ADA applies to all government jobs at the federal, state, and local levels, and it protects employees of private companies that have 15 or more employees.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, allows qualifying employees to take 12 week of unpaid leave for medical reasons while assuring their job will be available for them when they return. The FMLA applies to all government jobs, public and private school positions, and jobs with private employers who have 50 or more employees.

If you’re going to rehab with a job, read up on these laws to ensure your job will be protected.

Know Your Employer’s Substance Abuse Policies

Before you talk to your boss about your addiction, know what your employer’s substance abuse policies are. Some employers have a zero-tolerance policy, while others have specific policies in place to protect employees who are seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. Some employees have no policies in place.

If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, it can offer valuable resources to help you understand how to explain addiction to your boss.

Keep in mind that while the ADA supersedes employer policy, it doesn’t cover people who are currently using illegal drugs. Don’t talk to your boss about your addiction until you have stopped using and enrolled in a treatment program.

How to Explain Addiction to Your Boss

Once you’re armed with information about addiction, your rights under the law, and your employer’s substance abuse policies, it’s time to talk to your boss. Without going into the sordid details, explain to your boss that you’ve been struggling with an addiction and have chosen to enter treatment. Answer your boss’s questions honestly, and let your boss know that you’re committed to recovery and improving your performance at work.

Most employers will be supportive of employees entering inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment, because it will improve productivity and reduce the chances of injury and costly mistakes on the job. The wellbeing of employees is important to many employers. Your boss can be an important source of support once treatment is over, and staying honest and accountable once you return will help you in your recovery journey.

If you need more help understanding how to explain addiction to your boss, an addiction counselor or employment attorney or liaison can help.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.