Returning to work after drug and alcohol rehab will often brings mixed feelings. On the one hand, you have made tremendous strides in overcoming addiction and feel rightfully proud of that. On the other, it is a little like being the “new kid” all over again.

Remember that thousands of people return to their jobs after drug and alcohol rehab every year, so you are not alone, even if you do not specifically know which co-workers have been in your shoes. Drug and alcohol rehab has the potential to affect your career in various ways. Here is how to navigate the return to your work environment.

Understand Your Rights and Possible Legal Protections

If your substance abuse required inpatient care or incapacitated you to where you required more than three full days with continued healthcare treatment, it may qualify as eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Bear in mind that only leave for actual treatment is required to be provided by your employer.

Also know that if your employer has an established policy of firing employees for substance abuse, they may fire you if you are in rehab. You cannot be fired for taking FMLA, but you can be fired for the underlying substance abuse issue, so it can be a thorny legal situation. Much will depend on your employer’s attitude toward you and its workforce in general. Some states provide rights in addition to these federal rights, and the best way to determine if you have additional rights under state law is to contact a local employment lawyer and ask.

Try Not to Make Major Employment Decisions Right Away

You can expect your first time back at work to feel different and stressful. That is normal. But even if you start to question whether your professional environment is a good environment for continuing with your development as a clean and sober person, your best bet is to talk to your sponsor or substance abuse counselor about the situation. Try not to make any major job decisions, like whether to quit, go back to school, or accept a transfer for a year. The first few days may feel fraught, but things may settle down quickly as you regain your sea legs.

It Is Your Call as to How to Answer Co-Workers’ Questions

People will ask where you have been, and you should be prepared. Some people are candid about the fact that they have been to drug and alcohol rehab, and others are more reserved. If you are not ready to share details, you can simply say you were on medical leave, or that you were absent to take care of health issues. And if someone continues to press you on the matter, it is perfectly appropriate to say that you do not feel comfortable talking about it right now. If you are open about your situation, you may find others who have been through the same thing, and this can be reassuring. It is up to you how you handle questions from colleagues.

Do Not Feel Obligated to Place Yourself in Tempting Situations

The company holiday party, summer picnic, or annual industry convention in Las Vegas can present difficulties after you have completed drug and alcohol rehab. Sometimes, it is simply best to RSVP your regrets and avoid a situation where you may be tempted to indulge. If you are obligated to attend a function, especially if it involves travel, prepare beforehand. Learn where and when you can attend local meetings and keep in touch with your sponsor. You can ask your hotel for a room without a minibar, or where the minibar has been cleared before you check-in. You have control over many aspects of your environment and should not feel bad for taking that control.

Returning to Work Means Taking the Good with the Not-So-Good

Work continued in your absence and that can make you feel both good and apprehensive at the same time. Work will not magically be stress-free now that you are clean and sober, but it will feel different. As you continue through the first weeks and months, you will gain more clarity about your career situation and how best to move forward. Be assured that many people have been through the same situation and have thrived afterward. If you would like to learn more about drug and alcohol rehab, we invite you to contact us at any time. Today does not have to be just another day. It can be Day One of something better.