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LCSW, CCS
Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

Who will help the helpers?

Many professionals face career peril by admitting they have a substance abuse problem. They must fear the potential losses of professional license, income, status, reputation and current job. For some, admitting they have a problem is career suicide.

For all of the devastation that addiction creates, some major obstacles to recovery, like career destruction, are often overlooked.

A handful of high-ranking professions, including medical doctors and attorneys, have provisions and contingencies for treatment in recognition that addiction not only threatens the individual professional but also threatens the profession. Treatment programs specifically designed to meet the needs of high-stress professions exist and go to great pains to ensure confidentiality. The importance of anonymity cannot be overstated because who wants to see a surgeon that’s a recovering addict?

What about for substance abuse counselors?

Substance abuse counselors, more so than any other profession, are comprised of recovering alcoholics and addicts and yet these professionals lacks contingencies for those who relapse or develop new addictions.

Worse, the prevailing wisdom in addictions licensing and ethics dictate that a professional who has relapsed ought to take a year off from their work to engage in treatment. It is the rare professional who can afford to do so. Regardless of how healthy or unhealthy we are, the mortgage/rent needs to be paid.

Worse still, addiction is a barrier to being awarded Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). It is still a widely held misconception that somehow being an addict helps one receive SSDI. Private and workplace short-term disability insurances do not consider addiction justified for utilizing benefits.

Finding a Solution

So here's what I propose...

  1. Get a diagnosis
  2. Report an undisclosed serious health problem
  3. Get the financial support and space you need to recover - without tanking your career

Given the lack of systemic support for those with the disease of addiction, I advocate manipulating systems. I have always marveled at the ability of addicts and alcoholics to maneuver and con. It should be apparent that when used toward positive ends, manipulation is a talent, and to act in one's best interest when others are not harmed cannot be considered unethical.

The American Medical Association clearly affirms that addiction is a disease. Support for an employee who is an active addict or alcoholic should therefore be equitable to an employee that is diagnosed with cancer.

Employers do not have the right to know which disease an employee lives with. They only have the right to medical documentation indicating that an employee is unable to perform their job functions due to serious health problems.

  • Help yourself, then, by asking that the medical professionals you seek help from only disclose that you live with a disease that leaves you incapable of fulfilling your job until a course of treatment is fulfilled.

Shame and stigma remain two of the biggest obstacles to recovery. I am not advocating deception; I’m saying that professionals in treatment are entitled to the same confidentiality as the clients we serve.

  • We are free to say to our employers, colleagues, and clients, “I’m very sick. I am not willing to discuss the nature of my illness. I can only assure you that I am seeking treatment and I will return to my duties as quickly as I am able.”

Building a Community of Support

Professionals are often leery of groups like AA and NA for fear that their anonymity will not be upheld. While I would normally encourage a person to seek out these groups, I concede that worries about confidentiality are reasonable. 

So Recovery Allies need to step up to fill this void.

  1. This means that the quality of professional support from addictions counselors and therapists is even more important than normal.
  2. Therefore, those of us who hate the disease of addiction must go to any lengths possible to make ourselves known as safe people to come to as professionals, as colleagues, as friends and as Recovery Allies.

Addiction is one of the few truly equal opportunity experiences in our society. It does not discriminate based on one’s occupation, experience, education, or socioeconomic status. While it does create wreckage for us all, the obstacles for recovery can differ based on our careers and other pragmatic needs.

Be a Recovery Ally

In every office I have ever worked in, I display symbols and signs identifying myself as a safe person to talk to regarding a variety of populations that face discrimination. I’d like to see a symbol developed identifying one as a Recovery Ally who is safe to talk with regarding addiction. Every problem has a solution, but those affected by the problems addiction creates are our employees, colleagues, friends, and family who desperately need support.

About the author Jim LaPierre:
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: recoveryrocks.bangordailynews.com Thanks! Jim
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Page last updated Jun 09, 2013

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