Reader Mailbag: How to Handle Employment Gaps Due to Drug Addiction or...

Reader Mailbag: How to Handle Employment Gaps Due to Drug Addiction or Alcoholism

Mailbag Reader

A long time reader writes in and asks:

[After finding some stable recovery]…..I have a large gap in employment because I started to look for work, before, and then wound up drinking when I got turned down. I also went to the VA rehabs to get sober during this gap. I know prospective employers are going to be asking me about the large gap, which was largely caused because of my Alcohol disease. How would you handle these gaps in an interview? How would you suggest approaching a resume with these ‘Alcohol-related’ gaps? What do you suggest I do to at least help me to get someone interested in talking to me about a prospective job? I am asking because I know you probably saw several type situations like mine where people, who had ‘Alcohol’ – related problems, were trying to seek work to live normal lives and to pay bills. I know that if I tell an employer, who doesn’t understand alcoholism, about my rehab stays, then he might not hire me because of it and get away with discrimination because he could lie and tell me that the position was taken.

I do have some experience with this, and I also lived in a long term rehab where several men went out and sought employment in their early recovery.  However, keep in mind that I am by no means an expert at finding jobs.

My own experience in getting jobs in recovery is that I was upfront and honest about my situation during the interview process.  Right now I work in a rehab facility, so my history was not really seen as a negative, but my first job in recovery was not “addiction related.” Still, when I interviewed to get a position working in group homes early in my recovery, I was honest about my situation, and I even explained that I was currently living in long term rehab. They still hired me in spite of this up front honesty.

As far as the gaps on your resume, I think you could go two ways and make it sound decent: “R and R” or “Eduction and training period.” Now if either one of those is even close to the truth, I think that sounds better than saying that you were completely wasted every day on booze. But I would not outright lie about it either. If you were unemployed and drinking heavily then you probably cannot claim that you were training (unless you were). You might say something like “I needed a rest period in between these jobs to get my personal life straightened out.”

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If you feel like you are backed into a corner, you might say “I went through a trying experience in my personal life, and I came out of it a stronger person as a result.” You do not necessarily have to go full out and explain that it was substance abuse or addiction, but depending on the person interviewing you, you might just lay it all out and go for it, if you think they would be open to that. The amount of clean time under your belt will also sway their decision about you, like it or not. They will look at your addiction differently if you have 5 years clean rather than 5 months….there is no getting around this.

I agree with this reader that some employers will discriminate unfairly against a person in recovery. Some employers are going to discriminate, and there is not much to be done about it, especially if you are going to go the honest route. How much of your hand you show in an interview is going to be a judgement call on your part. Try to read the person and see how sympathetic to your situation they will be.

I do not recommend that you outright lie or cover things up. But you don’t have to explain every little detail either.  If you think they would discriminate unfairly against you, I would speak in generalities about problems in your personal life.  If they try to pin you down and make you get specific, you’ll have to make a decision on the fly.  Either stand your ground or lay it all out there, depending on your gut level feeling about getting the job.

And of course, it is a numbers game. The guys that I know who live in long term rehab almost all have jobs, because they are encouraged to go out and keep applying every day until they find work.

What does everyone else think about this? What is the best way to explain your past to a potential employer?  Give us your thoughts in the comments….

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