Dear Healthy Men: As a man in recovery, one of my main concerns is keeping my job as I work on healing—I need the income to support my family. I’m making good progress, but want to avoid pitfalls that might derail me. What, if anything, should I expect regarding my recovery on the job? Also, what do I need to know about potential reactions from my boss and coworkers if I choose to open up about my recovery?
A: Excellent questions. Over 22 million Americans are in recovery, according to Dr. John Kelly of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. And about 14 million people in the workforce are substance-dependent, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Overall, men are nearly twice as likely as women to suffer from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), although, given that men are half as likely as women to seek help for any health-related issue (mental or physical), that ratio is probably low, as many men’s addiction issues are undiagnosed or they’ve found recovery outside traditional treatment pathways.
Like you, many people in recovery, have legitimate concerns about other people’s preconceived notions about addiction and recovery. Many, for example, see addiction as a “personal choice”—and therefore less worthy of compassion—despite the fact that the American Medical Association has recognized it as a disease since 1987.
Clearly, we need to get past this type of stigma, particularly in the workplace. Many, if not most, men link their self-worth to their ability to support themselves and their families; that’s why people in the field often say that “recovery goes best with a job.” However, many stereotypically male behaviors—aggressiveness, competitiveness, enduring of hardships and setbacks, stoicism, and acceptance of traditional top-down chain of command—that often help men succeed in the workplace can put those same men at risk of a deadly relapse when in recovery.
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