How to Tell Your Employer About Your Addiction Problem [Guide]

Coming Clean to Your Employer About Your Addiction Problem

If you find yourself addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can be scary to think that you could lose your job. The truth is that under certain circumstances, those who participate in illegal drug use or excessive alcohol use can lose workplace protections.

In this educational guide, we go over what you can do to protect your job, how to make your recovery a priority, and how to approach employers to let them know you’re struggling with an addiction.

Considering addiction treatment? Call now to ask questions about treatment for yourself or a loved one. Our helpline is free and confidential. Call (888) 906-0952 or submit a question.

Table of Contents

Before You Speak to Your Employer

Many are not aware of the legal and healthcare protections for those struggling with addiction. Some employees believe that their job is over if their employer finds out about their addiction.

The best step that employees can take to protect themselves and their careers are to get help. Before making any moves, you must know your rights from a legal and health perspective.

Once you are aware and know these important details, you might decide that disclosing your addiction problem to your employer is the right decision for you.

Please note that unless you are ready to take steps to treat your drug or alcohol addiction, telling your employer will not help you. The idea is that you inform your employer while you are currently enrolled in a treatment program. Your employer then can support you as you address the addiction problem.

Drugs in the Workplace

There are certain acts and legal procedures that discuss drugs in the workplace. For example, title 1 of the Americans with disabilities act discusses drug abuse in the workplace. This act allows employers to ensure that their workplace is free of illegal drug use and alcohol use. They must follow this rule and other federal laws and regulations that concern drug abuse.

However, although there are certain regulations for drug use in the workplace, there are few users. The ADA only has limited protections for discrimination against those recovering from drugs and alcohol.

Below we will go over the current legal requirements for employers and their employees.

  • An individual currently engaging in illegal drugs is not an “individual with a disability” when the employer acts based on 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 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 illegal drugs.
  • Employees who use drugs or alcohol may be required to meet the same performance and conduct standards set for other employees.
  • Employees may be required to follow the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and rules set by federal agencies about drug and alcohol use in the workplace.

Who is Protected Under ADA Guidelines?

Under the ADA, certain people are not protected. For example, if someone is actively engaging in illegal drug use, they are not a qualified person with a disability.

So, this means that if an employee is illegally using drugs- whether they are an addict or just a casual user they are not protected. This means the employer could fire them because they are not protected under the ADA. Employers are not violating any regulations by having random drug tests or requiring the employee to take one before getting the job. These rules help them enforce the rule of no illegal drug use in the workplace.

But, the ADA does protect some employees. Those will provide protections under the ADA must meet the following criteria:

  • Those who have been successfully rehabilitated and no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs are protected.
  • Those who are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and no longer engage in the illegal use of drugs; and
  • Those are regarded, erroneously, as illegally using drugs

A former drug addict may be protected, but it depends on the circumstances. Because it could be considered a limiting impairment. But the ADA, according to the EEOC Technical assistance manual, a former casual drug user is not protected.

Will Going to a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program Protect My Job?

It’s a pretty common question where an employee wonders if they can enroll in a drug and alcohol treatment program before being found out and disciplined or terminated.

If you’ve already been drug tested and your employer has found illegal drugs in your system, there may be a problem. A person who tests positive for the use of illegal drugs is not entitled to the same protections given to actual former users who have been or those currently in rehabilitation.

If the employee tests positive for drugs, they may not enter a treatment program to get out of being terminated. However, this is up to the discretion of the employer. Some employers may work with you if you’re upfront and honest, while others elect to terminate immediately.

One of the most important requirements of the ADA is to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. If a person struggling with addiction is in recovery and not currently using illegal drugs, they may be entitled to reasonable accommodations. These accommodations usually include a modified work schedule so that the employee can go to meetings.

The employee may also take a leave of absence to seek treatment. However, a leave of absence must be communicated and taken before the employee has been caught with a dirty test or found to be using drugs while on work property. It is only a protected case when the employee is already enrolled in treatment.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor

These might also interest you… 

Overcoming Stigma and Talking About Your Addiction Struggle

Just talking about addiction with others is helpful, whether it’s in the workplace or a home setting. Sadly, most stories in the media about drug addiction show hardcore street drug users.

Usually, it’s street drug users in bad economic conditions instead of those in suburbs or more affluent areas. Many view those who struggle with addiction as weak rather than view them as suffering from a chronic health condition.

A chronic health condition known to relapse can be difficult to keep under control. Instead, it is seen as something the user brought onto themselves. Similar to alcohol abuse.

Because there are so many shame links to drug addiction, it isn’t easy to talk about it. It makes it less likely that people as a community will be more open about it.

It is similar to how we never talked about what antidepressants we took years ago, but now it is almost normal to discuss. Drug abuse was antidepressant talk years ago- it’s taboo. But, unless we can change the attitude and ideas of others, we won’t be able to get people the help they need.

The public needs to be aware that drug addiction is a treatable condition. And that it is, in fact, a medical condition. If professionals can educate the public about addiction, we will see more support for policy changes to help those with mental illness and addiction.

Why Am I Addicted?

Many risk factors speak to the likelihood that a person will be addicted to drugs. A combination of different things can also influence the risk. The more factors a person has, the more the chance of taking drugs increases, causing the person to become addicted.


Biology is the study of living organisms, such as humans. In this specific scenario, we are discussing genes in people. The genes that people are born with create about half of a person’s risk for addiction. A person’s gender, ethnicity, and or the presence of other mental disorders. These factors can also influence the risk of drug use.


The environment a person is in can include many different factors too. Environmental factors include family and friends to economic status and regular quality of life. Other factors are peer pressure, physical or sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs. Or stress and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s chances of using drugs and being addicted.


Genetic and environmental factors interact with developmental stages in a person’s life, affecting their addiction risk. Taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction. The earlier it happens, the more likely it will become a full addiction. Teenagers face tough challenges when introduced to drugs at an early age. Teen brains are still developing, including the parts of their brain that develop decision-making, judgment, and self-control. Teenagers are also more prone to risky behaviors, which include trying drugs.

Types of Drug and Alcohol Rehab Available

Detoxification- This is a process where the abuser goes through a supervised withdrawal. The body begins to recover from the effects of the drugs or alcohol and become sober. Detox should always be done in a medical setting so that the patient can be closely monitored. And medical providers can also evaluate their condition. This treatment can take anywhere from two to seven days, depending on the drugs.

Inpatient Treatment- This is a residential program. Typically it includes detoxing at the very beginning. It will also include education about this chronic disease and the typical medical treatments for related medical conditions. It also provides information on nutritional stabilization and counseling. There are different kinds of counseling provided. Such as individual and group therapy. The patient will be monitored throughout the day to ensure compliance with the program. This treatment can last anywhere from one to six weeks. Some of these can be in a hospital, or there are also day programs available. The patient stays at the treatment center all day but goes home at night and on weekends.

Outpatient Treatment is mostly counseling and treatment daily or weekly after inpatient treatment. This is an important part of treatment, but is supplemental. This is usually a follow-up to inpatient or detox treatment. Depending on the severity of the addiction, only outpatient treatment may be needed. It can also include information about the disease, individual and group therapy, or follow-up counseling. This treatment is cheaper than inpatient but can last anywhere from one month to a year.

Make Getting Treatment Your Biggest Priority

Finally, employees are more likely to undergo treatment if their employer initiates it. Those that are in recovery usually become better workers. They use less health insurance and take less unscheduled leave.

If you do not know what your work can do for you, it does not hurt to ask. This information is valuable to help you lead a healthy life and stay in recovery.

If you have any other questions or concerns for yourself or a loved one, please feel free to call. We are always available. Call us at (888) 906-0952

Share on Social:



Susana is an addiction and recovery life expert and has over 7 years of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction that nearly claimed her life. It's her number one goal to provide educational resources to help those who are struggling with addiction find their way out.


These might also interest you… 

Social Media

Most Popular

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

New articles about addiction, treatment, and recovery sent directly to you! 


Related Posts

Get help and rebuild your life.

Recovery Starts Today

Drug and alcohol treatment is available for all financial situations. Insurance, medicaid, medicare, no insurance, more. Call now!