An upsetting trend is occurring. Presently, the unemployment rate is 4.1% — the lowest it has been in 17 years. Despite that seemingly promising statistic, thousands of Americans can’t find a job due to their past (or current) drug use. And maybe you’re one of them.
Why? Victims of drug addiction cannot pass drug tests. And those who are clean may have trouble overcoming personal hindrances.
One manufacturing plant in Ohio estimated that a whopping 25% of their potential hires fail their mandatory drug test. Overall, SHRM estimated that 4.2% of all potential candidates across the US failed their drug tests in 2016. That figure was higher than the previous year when 4% of the same population failed their drug test. In fact, 2016 brought the highest number of failed drug tests since 2004 when that figure reached 2016.
But there’s more: addiction is a complex beast comprised of shame, trauma, and a never-ending battle between an individual and their personal demons. Even if employers didn’t care about past drug use, those awful feelings alone can deter intelligent, capable workers from pursuing a great job.
However, all is not lost. Your future is bright, if you follow the best tips. We chatted with recovered addicts B and C to learn the truth and triumphs about jobseeking after getting clean.
5 Things to Know About Finding a Job After Getting Clean
The ADA May Protect You
While the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) will not protect current drug users, some cases of past drug abuse are protected by the law.
In their own words: “The ADA does not protect an individual who currently engages in the illegal use of drugs, but may protect a recovered drug addict who is no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs, who can meet the other requirements of the definition of ‘disability,’ and who is ‘qualified.’”
More or less, this means that your employer can’t hold your past against you. While there may be some jobs with a zero-tolerance policy, many positions cannot target you.
To paraphrase one of the ADA’s examples, let’s say that your boss has a relaxed tardy policy. You and your coworkers arrive late occasionally, but it’s not a big deal. Then one day, you show up late and your boss fires you, arguing that you are clearly using again. Your boss would be in clear violation of this protection.
Remember this as you start looking for jobs. As long as you stay the course of recovery, the law can actually help you.
Be Up Front About Your Past
We asked C if he told his employers about his past. C started using drugs at age 13 and admitted to showing up to work still high from the previous night. Because C loved “uppers,” he always managed to get his work done as a kitchen staff member. However, C is no stranger to law enforcement: he was arrested at 14 for marijuana possession, then he got a DUI at 21, and at age 23 C was arrested again for possession and intent to distribute MDMA.
Since getting clean, C is now a hairstylist and a salon owner.
“Always be up-front,” C explained. “If they have to find out from your background check, I feel like it can tarnish whatever rapport you’ve built during the interview rather than working in your advantage. It shows honesty and a willingness to own up to your mistakes, which are valuable qualities in a job candidate.”
So how do you answer interview questions in a way that shows that you are capable of handling new challenges? Inevitably, the subject will come up. US District Court, Eastern District of Missouri suggests that you tell the truth, but focus on the positives. Emphasize the fact that your drug use is in your past. Show that you’ve taken initiative to start fresh. Lastly, remind your interviewer that you possess the skills the role requires.
“Keep in mind that no matter how far down the rabbit hole you may have gone, even one step in the other direction is a positive one,” C reminded us.
Leave Your Past Behind But Strengthen Your Passion
C adamantly believes that finding your passion is crucial to securing your career.
“Find something you’re passionate about, or make yourself passionate about whatever it is you’re doing. If you have a passionate drive, it will show in your work ethic, the interviewer will hear it in your voice and body language, and it will push you to go above and beyond everyone’s expectations of you, including yourself.”
B, whose drug use led her to gain three felony convictions in three separate counties, agrees.
“Go after the dream you had prior to picking up, if it’s still the same. If not, find something you’re good at and are passionate about,” B noted. “Then give back to the community as a form of reparations.”
B now works as an ASL interpreter and is presently working on her master’s degree.
As you start your job search, consider your passions. Make a list of skills that naturally intrigue you. Apply to jobs that cater to these interests. Remind yourself that you deserve to feel happy in your job.
Remember, You’re Not Alone
“There’s no such thing as sober,” B noted. “Everyone has a crutch … ego, shoes attention, money, hero complex etc.”
Then B dove a little deeper and made a comment that you might not have considered: “You’d d be surprised by how many people on the interviewing panel have been to jail or have their own demons.”
C echoed the sentiment: “All humans have their means of escaping reality, it’s just a matter of what poison you pick.”
Remembering this can even the playing field as you search for jobs. Never forget that your interviewer is also battling their own demons and you may have more in common than you realize.
What You Did During Your Drug Past Makes a Difference
If you committed assault while using, then you may face more obstacles when job seeking. In that case, talk to your probation officer about the best way to position your unique story.
You may have done plenty of “bad” things but you are still hirable. While a DUI is bad, over one million Americans get arrested for driving under the influence each year, for example.
So have some faith in yourself. Believe that you can put your past behind you and advance your career.