Talking About Sobriety In The Workplace

Jef DeWitt Jef DeWitt Follow Nov 06, 2021 · 3 mins read
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According to the National Institutes of Health, ten percent of Americans have struggled with substance abuse at some point in their lives (NIH, 2015). That’s over 30 million people. I’m one of them.

I’ve written this post to promote normalizing discussions around substance abuse and addiction in the workplace. Why? Because I was once afraid to talk about it and maybe others are too. Admittedly, this is a little self-serving but it’s an honest effort to help heal all that goes along with the psychology of battling addiction.

Why Worry?

I was worried about what other people might think. I kept my sobriety under wraps with people until I felt comfortable around them. My rule was only to reveal as much as I could afford to be judged on. Because let’s face it, some people judge pretty hard.

It’s a provocative topic. People respond in interesting ways.

“Oh, so did you have a problem?” Duh.

“I really don’t drink that often.” I am the last person with any right to judge.

“Maybe I should stop drinking too.” Hey, if you want to talk about it, great. But I won’t be trying to persuade you.

Embracing Transparency

On dating apps, I include my sobriety at the top. I used to be shy – I thought it would scare people off. Now, that’s exactly why I’m open about it. The right people stick around. And I get the sense a lot of people like the idea of a more stable partner.

Let me be very clear, I’m not suggesting those things go hand-in-hand for everyone’s experience, but they did with me.

The results have been a lot more positive than I anticipated. I get reactions from people specifically from that portion of my profile; more so than any other part (and I’ve got killer jokes on there too). I like to think my admission conveys transparency, integrity, and honesty.

Career Implications

The truth is, I’m still sort of shy about it in my professional life. Unless someone asks me or I get to know them well, it generally doesn’t come up.

I have long worried that a potential employer would see my history of struggling with substance abuse as a giant red flag. But today I have over a half-decade of sobriety under my belt. I’m proud of that. I have successfully modified my behavior. I have come to be honest with myself in ways that translate well to accountability and accepting even difficult feedback in constructive ways.

I don’t take sick days to nurse hangovers. I show up and I work hard to prove I belong at the table. My ego gets checked at the door.

The Takeaway

Because that’s another thing: Hiding this stuff makes me feel ashamed. And that feeds a toxic mindset that I don’t belong. In the past, I’ve leveraged this to push myself harder. I worked to ‘make up’ for what I had done, to amend my past and atone for my mistakes.

I’m trying not to feel that way anymore. Those mistakes helped make me who I am today. I’m actually grateful for them. And because of how I chose to respond to my struggles, I’m a better employee, a better coworker, and a better person.

Do you see past struggles with addiction as a red flag?

Getting Help

If you or someone you know needs help, it can be found free and confidentially via SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (SAMHSA, n.d.).


National Institutes of Health (November 18, 2015). 10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives. National Institutes of Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). SAMHSA’s National Helpline. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Jef DeWitt
Written by Jef DeWitt