The 12 Myths of Addiction — Myth #6: You have to quit work to get treatment
By Lucy Schultze
Oxford Treatment Center
Getting help for a drug or alcohol addiction means going off to residential rehab for 30 days — right?
While that’s true for some people, others are able to go to treatment without having to step away from their jobs and home life.
That’s because there is a broad spectrum of problems that people can have with drugs and alcohol. The American Society of Addiction Medicine classifies five levels of care intensities, with even more sub-levels in between. Each individual can get help at the level of care that’s right for them. For some, this means inpatient care, and for others, this means outpatient care, which is often more flexible.
At Oxford Treatment Center, outpatient programs serve two different groups. Some individuals are transitioning from medical detox and residential treatment into outpatient programs. Others are getting treatment after-hours and are able to continue working or going to school while receiving outpatient care.
“Employers here are truly supportive when it comes to getting help for addiction,” said Deja Washington, MSW. She joined Oxford Treatment Center in April and leads the Community Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at the Oxford outpatient office.
“I have not yet heard anyone say, ‘My employer doesn’t get it,’” Washington said. “Many people are in an Employee Assistance Program because of an addiction, and their employers are trying to give them a second chance. If an employee is willing to get help, their company is willing to work with them.”
The Community IOP group meets three times a week from 6-9 p.m. In addition, clients meet with Washington for individual hour-long sessions once a week. They undergo frequent in-office drug screenings for accountability, see in-house psychiatrists for medication management, and take part in 12-step meetings in the community.
It can be a lot to manage on top of a full-time job. For most people, IOP lasts 10 weeks. Washington said new clients often complain about the schedule at first.
“They’ll say, ‘I’ve been at work all day. Now I’ve got sit with you for three hours?’” she said. “Then they begin to see that the others in the group are enduring just as much — and they see what a strong recovery they’re building as a result.”
The value of group work, she said, comes with the support people give one another, and with the experience of not being alone in the struggle.
Washington said she always starts group meetings with a time of quiet meditation. The sessions are a time to decompress, reflect, share and encourage. Outpatient groups are small but diverse, ranging from college students to working professionals to retirees.
“The group is a safe haven for them,” Washington said. “We have discussions; we laugh, we get quiet. They’re able to get everything out — from the driver who got on their nerves at the red light right before the meeting, to the hard things they’re dealing with in life.”
Clinical Director Chip Peterson, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, said the treatment process equips people with the right tools to get through stress and hardship in new ways.
“When you remove the drugs and alcohol, you’re taking away the one thing that person has used to help them cope with life,” he said. “In therapy, we work to give people new coping skills, and teach them healthy ways to deal with life on life’s terms.”
Washington says she encourages employers to learn about the disease process of addiction and to always have compassion.
“I don’t know that a lot of employers realize they may be the only support a person has,” she said. “Give them a first and second chance — but at the same time, hold them accountable and set clear boundaries.”
Washington said many people who struggle with addiction have learned how to function day-to-day while using, but admit they are not as focused or productive. Warning signs on the job include behavioral changes, tardiness for work and withdrawing from others.
“It’s like they’re at work, but they’re just going through the motions,” Washington said.
Employers who refer someone to an IOP can request regular updates. Washington said employers typically just want to know whether or not someone is showing up for group meetings and appointments.
“Employers are working with people on their break schedules, because a therapy session is no different than a doctor’s appointment,” she said. “I always encourage people: Be open and honest with your employer. They want to see you get better.”
Editor’s note: This article is part six of a 12-part local series exploring common myths around drug and alcohol addiction.
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