Back to Work After Rehab – 5 Tips to Avoid Relapse

Returning to work after a long period of drug and alcohol rehab can be intimidating. Many individuals struggle with fears of relapse, and for good reason. People often use because of or in relation to work, especially in busy and high-stress professions. You want to return to work, but you also want to manage the factors that may have contributed to or led to substance abuse in the first place.

While substance abuse and relapse are extremely complex issues, you can work to avoid relapse. No two people are the same, so your strategy cannot be the same, but you can work to create coping mechanisms, preventive measures, and plan to avoid drug use, which will help when you go back to work. These 5 tips will help you avoid relapse once you go back to work.

Continue Therapy and Counseling

Most rehab programs aren’t meant to be a one-time thing that you take once and are forever in recovery. Rehabilitation is not a vaccine. Instead, it’s the first step of a lifelong process of recovery. Most people choose to move into maintenance programs and aftercare programs to ensure their continued sobriety or recovery. This may include living at a halfway or sober home for several months after rehab, it may include continuing counseling sessions, ongoing therapy, or a secondary solution such as a 12-Step program.

The most important aspect of continuing therapy and counseling is that you receive follow-up treatment, continue to feel as though you are held accountable, and that you continue to have an outlet to share and discuss your emotions and feelings in relation to drug and substance use. Over time, this will allow you to build a healthier relationship with substances, where you recognize that drug or alcohol abuse is something you don’t want to do for yourself, not something you want to do because it makes you feel better.

Tip: Seek out ongoing therapy or counseling, preferably alongside a self-help group like 12-Step or SMART Recovery.

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Manage Stress

Many professionals start to use as part of a stress coping mechanism. The more pressure is put on you to excel in every area of your job, the more stressed you will be at work. However, high-demand professionals aren’t the only individuals who experience high levels of stress at work. You may also experience stress if your employer is doing badly, if you have too much responsibility, if you are harassed or treated badly, if you work in a team where you do too much work, if you are overworked, if things frequently go wrong and so on. You may also experience stress if you experience money, family, or relationship problems, which are each difficult to step out from under.

While you can’t cure stress, you can learn to cope with it, learn to reduce it, and learn to organize your life in a way that drives less stress. For example, you can exercise regularly, take up mindfulness or meditation, practice yoga, or go to a Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction course to learn stress management. Most types of CBT include a significant amount of stress management as well, which will help you to deal with stress.

Tip: Recognize where stress is coming from and look for healthy coping mechanisms or work to reduce stress.

Recognize Your Weak Spots

Most of us are aware of what makes us want to drink or use. You should sit down, preferably with a therapist or counselor, determine what typically makes you want to drink or use, and work out coping mechanisms.

For example, many people experience cravings as an extreme thing, which can prevent them from actually doing their jobs. But cravings often pass very quickly, with the worst of the sensation disappearing after 15-20 minutes. If you can create coping mechanisms for that period, you can likely go about your day without relapsing. Doing so at work can be difficult, simply because you might have access to substances through someone else, you won’t be able to do something like call your sponsor or go for a run, and you will probably have to continue work. However, you can devise coping mechanisms like talking to someone, doing something with your hands, taking a bathroom break, or so on.

Tip: Recognize when and where you’re likely to experience cravings and plan your response

Take Care of Yourself

It’s important that you continue to take care of your physical and mental health. This is especially important when heading back to work, where you will experience physical and emotional stress. Individuals in very stressful or very boring jobs are in very high-risk categories.

What can you do to “take care of yourself”? Most research agrees that your best option is to eat a nutritionally healthy diet, consistently get regular exercise (30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day), and make time for yourself to de-stress, relax, and enjoy yourself. This means making time for friends, hobbies, and simple relaxation, so long as these activities don’t include drugs or alcohol. If you haven’t had nutrition therapy as part of your rehab program, you should consider seeking out a nutritionist and getting advice. Chances are, your substance abuse has caused nutritional deficiencies and perhaps temporary or permanent damage to your gastrointestinal tract, which means you will have to take better care of your diet to achieve the same health benefits.

Over the long-term, regular exercise and a healthy diet will go a long way towards improving your energy levels, happiness, mood regulation, and will help you to reduce cravings.

Tip: Set aside time for light exercise such as walking and make sure you eat a nutritionally balanced diet.

Set Boundaries

Your colleagues and coworkers probably mean extremely well, but most workplaces involve a considerable amount of after-work drinking. In some cases, you may also be working around former drinking or drug-abuse buddies and doing so can put considerable pressure on your ability to stay clean or sober. No matter what your situation, it’s important to set boundaries and stick to them.

These should include:

  • Saying no when asked out for a drink. It’s okay to be excluded from social events. Try inviting everyone to a non-alcohol-related event on occasion to balance things out
  • Consider revealing your (former) substance abuse and being honest about it. Many workplaces have protection schemes in place. You’re also protected by the AHCA, providing you are not currently using.
  • Talk to others in your team or department who are using or still drinking. Ask them to seek out help. If they do not, talk to management.

If your friends and colleagues know that you don’t drink or use anymore, they will mostly respect that. Setting boundaries and establishing your preferences upfront removes you from the possibility of being guilted into going to a bar too soon, where you will be tempted to relapse.

Tip: Set boundaries about drug and alcohol use upfront so you don’t have to fight cravings or feel bad about declining drugs or alcohol.

Going back to work is a large but important part of your recovery and it is something that is intimidating. However, if you have attended rehab, you’ve likely learned most of what you need to know to navigate your life. You can supplement this with ongoing counseling and therapy, continue going to a self-help group, and continue taking care of your mind and body. Most importantly, using these tips, you can stay sober and maintain your recovery, even in a stressful work situation. Good luck!

Contact our experienced treatment advisors from South Coast Counselling at 1-844-330-0096 and find the help you need or help someone who is addicted in finding the help they need.


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