How Can I Explain Going To Rehab To My Boss?

A how to guide for discussing substance use disorders and going to rehab with your boss. Signs of a problem…plus tips on how to have The Big Talk. More here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: This article will outline signs of addiction in the workplace. It will also provide you with tips on what to do to both get help and save your professional reputation.


The Signs

Talking to your boss about an addiction problem can be discomforting and intimidating. But the truth is that your boss has probably noticed some changes in the way you behave at your workplace and/or the way you perform your assigned duties. In the case that s/he has not noticed some changes…YOU probably have.

The U.S. Department of Labor has noted the following signs and symptoms as indicators for possible substance abuse:

  • Disregard for safety.
  • Early departures.
  • Extended lunch periods.
  • Inability to make a rational judgment.
  • Inconsistent work quality.
  • Increased absenteeism.
  • Lowered productivity.
  • Repeated mistakes in daily tasks.
  • Troubles with concentration and attention.
  • Unexplained disappearances from your working place.
  • Unnecessary risk taking.

If these scenarios sound familiar, you may need professional help.

If you’re willing to get the help, you’ve already shown a great level of responsibility and self-awareness. In fact, you do not have to feel ashamed, guilty, nor stigmatized about dealing with addiction. Your greatest attribute at this time is your honesty and readiness to take some action towards treatment. But what legal rights to treatment do you have?

Your Legal Rights

Be aware of your rights and responsibilities.

In truth, you should not have to worry about losing your job. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects those who are employed and experiencing disability to maintain working status when seeking medical help. According to the law, employees have legal rights to ask for accommodations when entering rehab and employers must hold your job position while you are attending rehab.

So, if you are facing addiction problems, consider yourself protected from being fired or losing your job for entering rehab. You can only get fired if you continue using drugs or alcohol and being unable to meet job expectations or inefficient in performing your work duties.

Why People Avoid It

All people face hardships at one time or another. Revealing your plans to visit a rehab to your boss can actually strengthen a professional bond. But first, you need to know how to talk about addiction. Let’s take a look at what can get in the way of an honest, open conversation.

Most people avoid a difficult conversation simply because they are afraid. The most common reasons people fear speaking up openly to a boss, or to the human resources department, about facing an addiction problem are connected with job loss. Other fears include:

  • Stigma, rejection and judgment from colleagues.
  • Being replaced by another employee.
  • A ruined reputation.
  • Unequal treatment when you get back from rehab.

Let’s put it this way: Most Americans look down on addiction.

However, you are not alone!

More and more people are seeking help for addiction. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that around 22 million Americans need help for addiction. Furthermore, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act requires that mental health and substance use disorder benefits be covered by insurance companies and managed in a manner that is no more stringent than medical/surgical benefits.

The Big Talk: Tips To Help Break The News

TIP #1: Do not let the the burden of shame and stigma stop you from speaking openly.

Addiction is a brain disease and has nothing to do with lack of moral, or personal strength. The same way fell into the vicious circle of dependence, you can get out of it with the help and intervention of addiction professionals. Learn as much as you can about addiction before you plan the talk…so you’re well prepared.

TIP #2: Make a plan. Do not start a conversation with your boss unprepared!

Before discussing with your boss and colleagues about your addiction, advise counseling professionals and design a plan. Here are some aspects you need to focus on in advance:

  • How long you will be away from work?
  • Who will take over your tasks?
  • Are you going to report your progress from rehab to your boss?
  • How is the communication between you and your boss continue while in rehab?
  • Does your company offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
  • Will you get a treatment referral and support in recovery?

These are all the things you need to explore before you approach your boss and tell him about your prescription drug addiction problem and plans for checking in a rehab facility. This way you will show real determination, responsibility and devotion for recovery.

TIP #3: Chose the right time and environment.

Schedule a private interview with your direct supervisor or your HR Manager outside of holiday times or well in advance of big deadlines. The most important thing to note here is privacy. You  are under no obligation to share your plan with anyone other than these folks. Addiction is a medical condition. You are entitled to a medical leave of absence and to the privacy that personal conditions entail.

TIP #4: Be humble, express remorse, and show determination for change.

When the big talk comes, show that you are aware of your low productivity, concentration, and other problems in your tasks and performance. Show that you are serious about treating the problem and share some of the next steps you are willing and ready to take.

TIP #5: Know what to ask for.

At the end of the talk, ask for help from the company regarding and explore your options and opportunities to get some of your treatment costs covered. Be optimistic that you will receive understanding and compassion from your boss and openness for rebuilding your relationship with your boss. Admitting an illicit or prescription drug addiction or problem with drinking and reporting it to your boss makes you brave and shows that you’ve outgrown the stage of denial. The fact that you are ready and proactive towards looking for help is a huge plus.

TIP #6: Make sure to be honest and keep the conversation professional.

Share the facts, not the details. But keep it honest. Being well prepared will show your employer that your are serious and that you are ready to work on the issues that were affecting your life and your work performance. It is best to have your information at hand and a plan of action for recovery when you request a leave of absence from your job.

Saving Your Professional Relationships

So, how can you save face when considering rehab?

The best way to salvage professional relationships is to apply yourself to treatment outcomes. Aim for abstinence. Go to support group meetings. Focus on yourself…and the rest will follow.

Indeed, the Department of Labor recognizes that returning to work can place a burden on workers and employers.  You may need a change in the work environment. Your employer may need to adjust, as well. Working constructively after rehab is the best way to maintaining employment and keep your professional relationship with your boss on a well-respected level. This way, you will prove that you’ve applied all the things you were taught in recovery and justify your time off from work.

Another way to keep you professional relationships in the positive is to speak bout your experience only with trusted colleagues and co-workers. In fact, you need not say anything about your medical leave. Once you tell your boss of the nature of your issues, s/he has a legal obligation to remain confidential. This means that sharing information with others about your substance abuse problems is not allowed and legally prohibited.

Focus On Yourself

Recovery can be an amazing time for personal growth, learning, and building relationships with those who face similar problems. For many people who are career-oriented, going to rehab for  can also be a time of high-stress and increased mental health struggles. In order for you to have the best experience possible, it is important to take the time you need to focus on yourself, your mental health and your recovery. You will be a better worker and a better human being once you get free from addiction.

In sum, focus on getting better. The rest will come with time.


We hope that we’ve given you an idea about how to approach your boss and discussing leaving work to attend rehab. In case you have any additional questions, or a personal experience with this topic, you are more than welcome to share a comment with us in the section below. We always try our best to provide our readers with a personal and prompt response. In case we do not know the answer to a specific question do not worry, you’ll be directed to an expert who does.

Reference Sources: Business Group Health: An Employer’s Guide to Workplace Substance Abuse: Strategies and Treatment Recommendations
Stop Frying Your Brain: Telling Your Boss About Your Addiction
His House Rehab: Talking To Your Boss About Your Addiction
Willingway: How to Tell your Employer you are Battling an Addiction
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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