Substance abuse and the workplace can be a volatile combination. For an addict, whether active or recovering, trying to balance sobriety with a paying job is strenuous. You might even be currently employed and seeking help for addiction or treatment for addiction to keep your job.

For alcoholics and addicts the workplace can serve as a major trigger. Stressful hours, interoffice conflict, and job frustration in general can encourage substance use. A negative work environment can make a person feel pushed to the brink and lead to poor decision-making.

Employers have every right to know their employees are not using alcohol on the job or partaking of illegal drugs at any point in their employment. An employee using drugs or alcohol may endanger themselves or others in their day-to-day tasks.

At the same time, employees have rights, too. Discrimination against a person due to a history of substance abuse is illegal. Additionally, alcohol and drug addiction are considered health issues and thus protected under federal law.

Understanding the legal aspects may help in figuring out how to keep a job after failing a drug test. And there can be resources available from jobs that help people with drug and alcohol addiction.

But you may be struggling with a desire to use while still maintaining your job. You could be trying to quit drinking or abusing drugs, while also needing a steady paycheck to survive. You may even be wondering “Can an addict hold a job?”

The easiest solution is to refrain from using any substance barred by your employer. If you feel unable to, contact your company’s HR and find out your options for treatment under your healthcare plan.

Beyond that, you can always reach out for help and speak with a substance addiction specialist. Call 504-384-7870 today.

Do Drinking and Drugs Interfere with Your Job?

Drugs and alcohol can greatly affect productivity in the workplace.

Even if you are not drinking on the job, or sneaking off to use during your shift, substance abuse still negatively affects your work performance.

It is best to step back and honestly assess things. Are you being inconsistent at work? Do you call out sick a lot? Has your productivity been suffering? Are you showing poor judgment in your decisions? Do co-workers or customers complain about you?

If so, these are signs that seeking help for addiction may be necessary.

Depending on the industry you work in, your actions may not only be disruptive, they may be endangering you and others. If you operate heavy machinery or work with hazardous materials, your substance use can impair your ability to safely do your job.

You might be using alcohol or drugs as a way to alleviate work-related stress but unintentionally adding to it. Substances can reduce stress in the short-term, but overall, they are detrimental to mood and mental health. They also reduce your physical and cognitive abilities which can cause your productivity to suffer.

If you feel you can’t do your job without drinking or using, there could be deeper issues in play. Seeking help for addiction may entail personal therapy that helps you answer questions about your substance use. It can give you tools to learn to work and succeed without the need for drugs and alcohol.

Consider how much you value your job. It probably pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head. It may even be your dream job. Getting fired for substance abuse not only burns a major bridge with a current employer but can greatly impact your ability to get work in the future.

Protection Under the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act allows an employer to keep a workplace free from use of alcohol and illegal drugs. At the same time, it protects employees who are recovering drug abusers and alcoholics from discrimination.

The act contains a complex set of laws, but there are basic agreements between employers and employees. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights summarizes these:

  • An individual who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs is not an “individual with a disability” when the employer acts on the basis of such use. 
  • An employer may not discriminate against a person who has a history of drug addiction but who is not currently using drugs and who has been rehabilitated. 
  • An employer may prohibit the illegal use of drugs and the use of alcohol at the workplace. 
  • It is not a violation of the ADA for an employer to give tests for the illegal use of drugs. 
  • An employer may discharge or deny employment to persons who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs. 
  • Employees who use drugs or alcohol may be required to meet the same standards of performance and conduct that are set for other employees. 

Again, there are many ins and outs.

Being a recovering addict does not exempt you from drug tests or allow you to use illegal drugs without consequences from your employer. However, it does prevent employers from denying you employment based on a documented history of substance abuse.

Since addiction is considered a health issue, you are not required to disclose those details of your past to a potential employer. Previous treatment for addiction is protected information under HIPAA privacy laws.  

Can I Get Fired for Being an Addict?

The general answer is no: it is discriminatory to fire someone because of an employers’ perception of their past drug use, or even for current use without any proof of a workplace violation.

However, your actions related to your addiction are not necessarily protected. If you are caught drinking or using on the job, you are subject to the same consequences as anyone.

Additionally, an employer can use the “direct threat” defense to legally fire someone or avoid hiring them. The ADA defines direct threat as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation.”

In other words, if an employer feels you pose a legitimate danger to the safety of other employees, you are not protected under the ADA. But this can be a grey area which veers into complex legal territory.

Whether you can keep a job after failing a drug test is largely up to your employer. They may give you the opportunity to seek treatment, but they are not legally obligated to. You may have legal options to pursue as well if this happens.

Obviously, many scenarios will depend heavily on your relationship with your employer.

The easiest way to head off potential conflict is to get help before things spiral out of control. Continuing with a lifestyle of substance abuse significantly raises the possibility of losing your job.

For those who may not have health coverage at their job, you can contact an addiction professional who will point you in the right direction for treatment.

Can an Addict Hold a Job?

There has been observed link between drug abuse and job status in the U.S.

A 2013 report shows that from 2005-2011, more than 8% of adults reported using an illegal drug in the previous month. That number more than doubled amongst the unemployed. And the more employment a person had, the less they reported using.

The numbers should be taken with caution, however. An employed person may be afraid to admit drug use, even in an anonymous survey, for fear of retribution by their employer.

The trickiest question is, “Does drug abuse lead to joblessness or does joblessness lead to drug abuse?”

As you can imagine, the answer is mixed. A person may turn to drug or alcohol abuse as a result of losing a job or may not be able to get jobs because of their substance use. Navigating the work sphere can be particularly difficult for an addict.

Of course, it is possible for a substance abuser to hold a steady job. Some “high-functioning” alcoholics or drug users maintain the appearance of a regular lifestyle despite their addiction.

But this is both a deceiving label and a deviation from the norm. Drug and alcohol use impair the mind and body no matter who you are.

Remember also that substances can trick a person into thinking nobody else knows about their problem. As with addicts who require an intervention, many users believe they are getting away with their substance use when it is actually apparent to everyone around them.

If you find that you are trying to juggle work and substance use, it’s a sign that you might be heading toward a negative outcome. Seeking help for addiction through your workplace—or from a professional counselor or facility—can aid in ensuring you keep your job.

Reaching Out at the Workplace

Admitting you need help is one of the hardest things you can do as an addict. Feeling like you can’t accomplish something by your own willpower can be frustrating and disheartening.

But with addiction to any substance, the drug eventually takes hold of your brain and tells it that you need the substance to survive. Even if you make a conscious decision to stop drinking or using, additional help may be necessary to stay sober.

In many cases, addicts are afraid to expose their issues to their employers in any way. They think if they seek treatment for addiction, or even acknowledge it, they will be jeopardizing their job.

Employers should encourage employees to seek specialist support if they suspect a substance abuse problem. This can include access to addiction therapy or rehabilitation centers.

Once again, alcoholism and addiction are considered legitimate health issues. Many employee assistance programs and healthcare plans offer at least some level of coverage for addiction treatment.

If you have a co-worker you can trust, ask them honestly if they think you are exhibiting signs of having a problem. Sometimes just talking with someone trustworthy will shed light on your dilemma.

Do not be afraid to reach out to your company’s HR department with your questions. You certainly aren’t required to expose your issues to co-workers or your superiors. Employee medical conditions are considered highly confidential and you cannot be penalized for simply requesting information on drug and alcohol treatment.

These programs exist for a reason—they are designed to help. Not to mention, your employer doesn’t want to see you endanger yourself or others, and doesn’t want to see you lose your job unnecessarily.   

How to Move Forward from Addiction

If you’ve sought this article out, it’s possible you think you might have a problem with drugs and alcohol. You might be anticipating a conflict at your work or dealing with one right now.

You are not alone. Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol use and substance abuse disorders. A job or career is a major part of a person’s life. Jobs are also a major source of stress for many people, so they use substances to dull their feelings or simply forget the workday.

But losing a job due to addiction can not only derail your career plans, but it can also damage your reputation. Do some research and find out what your employer offers in terms of health benefits related to substance abuse.

It is never a bad time to seek help for addiction. If you would like to talk to someone about treatment options call 504-384-7870. Your future and your welfare might depend on it.

Written by Christopher Dorsey