There is nothing to fear

I run a hotel and I often get requests for jobs from recovering addicts. First of all, the term confuses me. If they are recovering, does that mean that they have not recovered and are still using drugs? Secondly, is it safe to employ someone who used drugs? I worry that they will become aggressive or commit some crime. Actually, I want to help but am confused. Please advise me.

Confused, Paro

Well, with regard your first question, addiction is considered a disease like hypertension or diabetes. Basically, once you are diagnosed with high BP etc, it cannot be cured. However, with correct and timely intervention, the disease can be managed and kept in check. Addiction is the same.

In this respect, rehab treatment is similar to visiting a doctor for hypertension or diabetes. The sufferer is taught a programme that can help them constrain the disease. For hypertension, this might include a dietary regime of consuming less salt and increasing fruit and fresh vegetables, as well as undertaking regular exercise. In rehab, among other the things, the addict will be taught a programme, such as the 12 steps, in addition to receiving instruction on how to deal effectively with life issues and how to avoid addiction-triggers.

In the same way that we will not say that a person who is controlling their hypertension or diabetes is cured of the disease, so it is with addicts. In short, a person who identifies himself as a recovering addict is no longer using drugs, but the disease remains latent and needs to be constrained.

Furthermore, in a similar way that there no one personality trait that defines someone with diabetes or hypertension, so there is no one characteristic that defines an addict. In reality, like everyone else in society, addicts have their own individual personalities and each one is unique and different to another.

Therefore, when you interview someone for a job, there should be no discrimination against someone because they once abused drugs and they should be treated the same as everyone else. In fact, I would contend that recovering addicts tend to make excellent employees because they have to follow a strict programme, which includes no late night parties (as these might act as a trigger), and, of course, they have to totally avoid drugs and alcohol.

In addition, the rehab programme will entail a lot of discipline and will challenge the addict’s defects and prejudices. In this respect, a recovering addict will generally be hard working, punctual and no longer hold old-fashioned ideas, such as believing that sweeping the floor or throwing out garbage are socially low activities.

Furthermore, you should realize that many addicts started to use drugs as a means to escape mental pain. In this respect, they are in need of help, not condemnation. If they were aggressive in the past, it was mostly due to the affect of the drugs and it is not an innate characteristic. As I mentioned above, each addict has a unique and individual personality and they are no less or no more likely to be violent than any other member of society and so there is nothing to fear with regard to employing a recovering addict. In the unlikely event that they do relapse, the most probable consequence is that will just not turn up for work. Nothing else will happen. In fact, many of Thimphu’s top hotels and cafes employ recovering addicts, and I always receive very positive feedback about their performance.

Actually, it is very important that businesses like yours reach out and offer opportunities to recovering addicts. In this respect, we can think of society like a human body. If one part of the body, for example the liver, is sick, then we cannot claim that the body is healthy. In reality, if our liver is sick, we are sick and the whole body is affected. In this respect, if one section of our society is not productively engaged but instead is addicted to drugs, then we have to admit that society is sick and, as we are part of this society, that affects all of us.

In conclusion, I strongly suggest that you offer job opportunities to recovering addicts. Not only is there nothing to fear, but in doing so you are benefitting society and, at the same time, probably gaining a very good employee.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

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