Ask AA: Changing Careers in Recovery

Recovery is more than abstaining from alcohol. It’s often referred to as a journey or process that begins with abstaining and continues by making healthy changes to improve overall well-being. Recovery is an opportunity to find purpose in life and fulfill that purpose for the greater good. In early recovery, you may find yourself wanting to make improvements in every area of your life, including how you earn a living. But, before you start changing careers in recovery, you should learn more about yourself, why you want to leave, and where you want to go in the future.

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Wanting a New Life

Many physical and psychological changes occur in the body during detox and early recovery. You may find yourself with a new outlook on life and may even feel “high” on sobriety. You are eager to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and spread how beneficial AA can be to recovery. This feeling is often referred to as the “pink cloud syndrome.”

Although there is very little research on it, pink cloud syndrome does exist and can last for months—or even years. The pink cloud can be beneficial because it keeps you motivated to attend meetings and work the program—but, at the same time, it can be dangerous due to the overconfidence that comes with it. The pink cloud makes you feel as though nothing can cause you to relapse and you may make decisions that put you at risk, like hanging around others who continue to misuse alcohol. While under the influence of the pink cloud,  you may want to look deeper into areas of your life that could hinder recovery.

Healing the Brain

The alcohol misuse can damage the brain, but that damage can be reversed by abstaining from alcohol.

Research shows the brain begins repairing itself as soon as you start recovery.

The brain has neuroplasticity—the ability to relearn new cognitive processing patterns. Research shows the brain begins repairing itself as soon as you start recovery. In fact, significant improvements appear within just a few weeks.

Big decisions, like changing careers in early recovery, should wait a few weeks or months, until your cognitive abilities are at their best.

Focusing on Stability First Before Changing Careers in Recovery

Although you may want to, avoid making a big decision like changing careers in recovery. During this time, cravings, confusion over getting sober, vulnerability, and mood swings may occur. Although you are no longer misusing alcohol, you still have some cognitive impairment. It can take many months for the brain to heal completely, so you shouldn’t make big decisions or changes in early recovery.

The primary goal for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other treatment programs is gaining stability in early recovery. Studies show you can take specific actions that lead to short-term and long-term recovery, such as:

  • Seeking help through treatment programs, including 12-step groups
  • Having a solid social support network
  • Believing you can maintain long-term recovery
  • Learning appropriate coping skills
  • Resolving urgent drinking-related life problems, including legal consequences

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Identifying Risk Factors at Work

While it’s not a great idea to start changing careers while in early recovery, certain work environments present greater risk for relapse.

As you gain mental clarity, problems you previously didn’t see are now impossible to miss. You may experience numerous psychosocial risk factors on the job that can affect your health and may trigger a relapse, including:

  • Job stress
  • Job insecurity
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of opportunities for promotion
  • Working conditions
  • Alienation from coworkers
  • Company culture
  • Workplace exposure to alcohol
  • Pressure from coworkers to drink after work hours
  • Discrimination and stigma-related issues

Knowing the Dangers of Workplace Stress

Workplace stress affects you, your coworkers, and even the your family. It can be caused by many factors, such as:

  • Your skills and abilities are not correctly matched with the job demands
  • The work conditions are poor, unsafe, or unhealthy
  • The attitudes of coworkers or supervisors
  • Experiencing harassment or bullying

Over time, workplace stress can cause you to develop a mood disorder or worsen a previously existing one. For those in recovery, the temptation to self-medicate may arise. There is a direct correlation between mental illness and alcohol use disorders, also known as co-occurring disorders. Too often, people get caught in a cycle of a poor work environment leading to poor work performance, leading to  worsening mood disorders. Eventually, adverse outcomes happen, which may include alcohol relapse or other consequences:

  • Job loss
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Workplace accidents
  • Physical illnesses
  • Sleep disturbances

Being Aware of Workplace Exposure

Every workplace has a climate of acceptance or tolerance regarding the use of alcohol or other substances. Some employers are emphatically against allowing access to alcohol on the job; others are more lenient. Research on workplace exposure shows the availability of substances on the job is more common than you may think. Over 2,100 workers were surveyed, and nearly half reported it is easy or very easy to take alcohol to work. Other results include:

  • 37 percent report it is easy to misuse alcohol at work
  • 20 percent report it is easy to obtain alcohol at work
  • 50 percent report they use it during lunch or on breaks
  • 23 percent report being exposed to a coworker’s alcohol misuse during the workday
  • Seven percent report their closest friend at work, or another coworker approves of misusing alcohol on the job

Working in a permissive environment is extremely risky and should be avoided when possible.

Handling Career Problems in Early Recovery

Your sobriety should take priority, and if something is happening at your job that is immediately jeopardizing your recovery, you must make changes. Not all problems can be delayed until you are more stable in your recovery. However, you can still avoid making a decision that may do more harm than good. Below are some tips on handling unavoidable career problems in early recovery.

Getting Advice from Trusted Sources

If you have an AA sponsor, a mentor at work, a career counselor, or another trusted person, ask them for advice. Factors you should consider with your sponsor or counselor include:

  • Realistic life vision
  • Setting realistic goals to reach your vision
  • Accurate assessment of your current skills
  • Cultural and family values, as well as beliefs about work

Then, you can work together on creating the steps to help you reach your career goals by:

  • Obtaining education or training
  • Developing social skills
  • Coping with challenges such as legal, mental health, or medical issues
  • Assessing needs such as housing, transportation, and childcare
  • Finding a new job, preferably before you leave your current job

Vocational guidance is typically a significant part of clinicians’ treatment plans in recovery treatment programs at the inpatient and outpatient levels. This is one reason attending alcohol recovery treatment is beneficial in early recovery—it’s also where you can practice implementing recovery skills that will help you prevent job-triggered relapse.

Putting Employment on Hold

Anytime you feel your recovery is threatened, it’s okay to seek help, whether that means entering or returning to an alcohol recovery program. Your thoughts of changing careers in recovery must be put on hold until you become stable again. Many companies support employees entering treatment for alcohol use disorder.

Most employers have concrete guidelines regarding leaving a job to seek alcohol recovery therapy. Some have employee assistance programs to help you pay for the initial treatment sessions. Because alcohol use disorder is recognized as a brain disease, seeking treatment is protected under some federal civil rights laws. For example:

  • The American Disabilities Act (ADA) set two significant terms regarding discrimination based on substance use:
    • An employer cannot use a person’s history of substance use disorder in the firing, hiring, or promoting process.
    • An employer cannot consider an employee’s enrollment in a substance use treatment program during the firing, hiring, or promoting process.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who have been with their company for at least one year or 1,250 hours. During this time, your job is protected. FMLA can be used for
    • Alcohol or other substance use treatment
    • Treatment of a physical illness related to or caused by using alcohol or substances
    • Taking care of a family member who has an alcohol or substance use disorder or physical condition associated with substance use

Choosing the Right Treatment Program

Treatment programs are diverse, and depending on the level of treatment you need, you may be able to continue working. If work is a trigger for relapse, treatment can be a place to work through your thoughts of changing careers in recovery. The different types of treatment options include:

  • Inpatient detoxification (detox) if you have relapsed and need medical supervision during the withdrawal process
  • Outpatient detox if you can benefit from medication to assist with withdrawal symptoms while meeting with a doctor on an outpatient basis
  • Inpatient rehab if you need to get away from your place of employment and into a safe environment where you can make the right decisions about your future with the help of licensed therapists and peers
  • Sober living if you need a place to transition before returning to your home environment. Here you can practice the skills taught in inpatient treatment
  • Partial-hospitalization program (PHP) if you need a structured program for 20 or more hours each week but need—or want—to remain living in your home environment. You may also be able to continue working when you are not in treatment
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP) if you need about ten hours of structured treatment each week. Many programs offer night activities, so you can continue working during the day and living at home
  • Individual outpatient counseling if you need to continue working full-time but would like to meet with a licensed therapist one or two times a week

Choosing a treatment center can be confusing and overwhelming. But help is available. We can connect you with the treatment specialist to go over your options. Give us a call anytime, day or night, at 800-839-1686Who Answers?.

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