Addiction in the workplace: how to talk to your employer about rehab

drinking at the workplace lack of concentration
Whether you love your job or count down the minutes until lunch, mastering how to behave at work isn’t easy. Between difficult colleagues, managing work hours and pleasing your boss, work is a tough enough challenge as it is. So, if you are suffering from addiction, it can seem even more challenging to know what to do.

Fortunately, the law is there to protect you. If you find yourself struggling to focus at work due to an addiction and you’re not sure what to do, there are laws in place which allow you to seek rehab with the support of your employer. Here, we’ll explain how to discuss seeking treatment with your supervisor.

Recognising addiction

Many of us drink alcohol to relax after work or bond with colleagues. If this becomes a habit, you may not even be aware if you develop alcohol dependence. It’s the same for other compulsions, such as gambling or watching porn. If you drink or take drugs to give you confidence before a meeting or to keep you awake for longer, this is known as substance abuse – it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction, which is not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you.

If you find yourself dependent on a substance in a work capacity, such as needing alcohol as a distraction from stress, or if you experience withdrawal symptoms when you have a comedown, you likely have an addiction.

Inpatient vs outpatient treatment

support through inpatient therapy
There are two options for seeking addiction treatment. Outpatient programmes involve going into the clinic for your treatment and then leaving after each session. Whereas inpatient programmes, also known as residential rehab, involve staying in the rehabilitation premises during treatment. This provides stability and constant care throughout your recovery.

Either of these options will take you away from your job, with inpatient treatment lasting anything up to one month. Although this may seem like a long absence, 28 days is a small sacrifice on your work’s behalf to let you focus fully on your recovery. In comparison to the lack of motivation addiction will cause, your employer will understand that rehab will benefit the company.

Try not to let your employment influence your decision – recovering from addiction needs to be your priority.

What happens when addiction is left untreated?

You’ll already know that addiction affects every aspect of your life. At work, you may find yourself being less productive and losing motivation. The time you’ve spent building relationships with colleagues can deteriorate, as you could become more irritable and less patient with them.

The ability to do your work can also be impacted if you cannot access a desired substance and experience withdrawal during a task. You could become a risk to yourself and those around you if you work around heavy machinery whilst high. With less focus and care, you could make errors on contracts or input valuable data incorrectly, costing your employer money.

You also risk losing your job by missing too many days or indulging your addiction in work hours. So, it’s better to seek help as soon as you recognise you’ve got a problem.

The taboo around addiction

Only recently has mental health started to be talked about more, and you may be concerned there is still a stigma attached to addiction. If you are addicted to gambling, you may become paranoid that you will be accused of stealing or receive judgement from colleagues.

Some people have outdated and wrong ideas about addiction. But people can be more open-minded than you think. Approach conversations with employers by expecting a positive response. Remember, you are protected with full confidentiality, and your boss will do what they can to protect you and the business.

Your rights at work

talking about addiction at the workplace
Talking about addiction in your job isn’t easy. Most employment contracts contain a clause prohibiting illegal substances to keep the workplace safe.

However, your employer has a duty of care towards you under the Health and Safety Act 1974. Addiction is a medical condition and should be treated with clear ethics. Before you talk to your superior, make sure it is viewed as a medical condition by seeking a diagnosis from your family doctor.

As this is a diagnosable condition, you should be eligible for sick pay when you attend inpatient rehab, as long as you receive a doctor’s note (also called a fit note).

How will rehab improve your work performance?

When it comes to your employment, you’ll find you have better concentration, focus, and critical thinking – your executive function will return. Your brain function will improve because your thoughts are no longer impaired by the drugs, alcohol or other addictions that used to control you.

Confidence is something else that will return. Imagine how strong you’ll feel after taking on your addiction and winning? This is going to reflect in every part of your life, including progression in your job.

How to talk to your employer about seeking rehab treatment

Here are three tips to help the conversation run smoothly:


Knowing that going into rehab is the right step for you, and how you’ll improve after, are key things that you want to communicate to your line manager. Write down what you have been feeling, the changes you noticed in your work and what the doctor diagnosed when you sought advice.

Make the conversation positive

Tell your employer how much better you’re going to be once you’ve completed your treatment. Having someone who is able to conquer the challenge of overcoming addiction is a plus for any employer.

Don’t fear discrimination

Your boss might seem strict, but they may understand addiction more than you know. If you’re concerned about a negative response, consider asking your union rep to join you, or even a trusted colleague.

Remember anything medical that you disclose to your boss is confidential. If you have a good relationship, you may want to have a more open conversation, but you’re talking about a medical condition and you have every right to stick to the facts.

you got this motivation and confidence
Breaking social norms in the workplace is never easy, but your employer has an occupational duty of care towards you and it’s unlikely you’ll be dismissed. Stay calm and remain positive, explaining how much better you’ll feel, reminding them of the benefits your recovery will have on the company.

If you have any more questions or doubts call us for free and friendly advice whenever you feel ready.