February 28, 2019
Q: How can I help a coworker who recently returned from treatment or is new to addiction recovery?
A: When it comes to addiction, it’s common for people to feel unsure how to help.
First and foremost, it’s your coworker’s decision whether or not to disclose that he or she is in recovery, or recently returned from treatment. Respect your coworker’s privacy the same way you would if they had received treatment for cancer or any other serious medical condition. This is critical, especially if you are a supervisor or manager.
If your coworker is open about the experience, don’t treat them differently. It’s great to offer encouragement, but treating them like they’re fragile isn’t helpful. If you have a coworker who is supporting a spouse or child with addiction, we have more specific tips here.
If you have any personal experience with addiction, feel free to bring it up, but understand their experience is unique. Be sure to ask how you might be able to help them in their wellness journey. Even if the initial conversation isn’t long or in-depth, simply offering support can be a huge relief to someone new in recovery.
If you don’t have much experience with addiction, you can still be a supportive coworker. Don’t worry about having all the answers; it’s more important that you’re there to listen. This may look a little different depending on your relationship.
One specific scenario I’d like to touch on is workplace social events. Here are a few ways you can be helpful to someone who’s new to recovery and may have anxiety surrounding these events:
- Volunteer to be a support system. This can mean different things: not drinking at the event, backing someone up if they’re repeatedly asked to drink or leave early with the person if need be. Talk with them beforehand so you know what they’d like help with, if anything.
- Don’t hover and continually ask if the person is doing alright unless you have a specific concern. If you do, let them know why you’re asking. “It looks to me like you’re a little anxious. Everything OK?”
- Even if it’s out of a well-intended desire to protect your friend, don’t tell others that person isn’t drinking. If someone asks you, you can tell them to ask the person directly, or just brush it off. “I don’t know why Mary isn’t drinking. Maybe she just doesn’t feel like it tonight.”
There’s no one right way to help a coworker; everyone is different. If nothing else, remaining supportive and respectful can be very helpful to a coworker new to recovery.