Recovery and Employment Should Go Hand in Hand

According to research, most people in recovery want to work. Anecdotal evidence in the form of client testimony and experience backs this up, too. If there’s a choice between being employed or being unemployed, most people in recovery want to take the job.

Employment is especially valuable for recovery. SAMHSA reports that having a job, paid or volunteer, improves a person’s recovery outcomes.

This is great news, right? People want to work, and working contributes to success.

So, what’s the problem?

It’s called stigma, and it leads employers to discriminate against applicants with substance use disorders. For example: They create policies that require background checks and restrict all criminal history, even when it has nothing to do with the job itself. They refuse to allow flexible schedules for treatment, court dates, and other time requirements common during early stages of treatment. Steps like these can effectively prevent people in recovery from applying.

Annette Johnson, our Housing Case Management Supervisor, said that stigma affected her several years into her recovery. She had been working in sales but wanted to do something meaningful – something that fulfilled that growing sense of purpose that her recovery journey had instilled in her. She found it when she applied for a job working with children. It felt like a perfect fit, and the employer thought so, too…until the background check came back.

“They couldn’t keep me because I failed to disclose a background I didn’t realize I had,” she said. “It threw me for a loop and shattered the illusion of who I thought I was.”

A setback like this could derail a recovery journey for someone already struggling or without any support.

Fortunately, Annette had the strength and the support she needed to persevere through the hard times. She worked with her sponsor, she remained underemployed to meet her financial obligations, and she kept watch for an opportunity unrestricted by stigma. And she found it when she saw an ad for case manager at a treatment program she had been through, herself.

An individual hands another individual a clipboard with a document on it, as one might in a job interview

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Annette said. “My only prior experience working in a recovery related environment was with a national not for profit organization. But I figured what the hey, I turned it over to my higher power and I applied.”

She discovered that the person in charge of the program was someone she knew from treatment, and the interview felt comfortable with a familiar face across the table. They offered her the job, and she accepted. “I liked the company, it felt like coming home. I was going to be working with people who had helped me get clean.”

As a housing case manager at WSTC, one of Annette’s duties is helping people in treatment to overcome roadblocks to employment. She does this by assessing clients’ strengths, identifying barriers to employment, and helping them obtain the resources they need to get the jobs that are open to them – so they’re much less likely to have the type of setbacks she had to overcome.

Case management is a key component of the early stages of recovery, and Annette plays a key role in improving our clients’ recovery success rates!

Keys are symbols of recovery housing, which unlocks the doors to finding meaningful employment.


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