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My Journey to Recovery: How an Employer Changed My Life

August 14, 2019

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On Tuesday, March 9, 2010, I awoke with a feeling that had become as expected as having the sunrise and set. I had a splitting headache and a nervous pit in my stomach as I dared to begin piecing together the night before.

This morning, however, was to be different.

This date marked 25 days since being charged with my second DUI. I had recently received word that I was in the running for a significant job opportunity. I had resolved that morning that I would finally remove alcohol, and its corrosive, destructive influence, from my life.

I have been very blessed. My parents gave me a wonderful home, a first-rate education, and loved me unconditionally, though I was certainly putting that last part to the test. All things considered, for someone struggling with a substance use disorder, I could not have been more fortunate.

What I lacked at the time was a sense of purpose and a structured environment. I had been volunteering for a congressional campaign and had hoped my efforts would yield a job. I panicked that this arrest would jeopardize that chance.

I was filled with dread and anxiety. I was worried that no one would be willing to take a chance on me, fearful of the potential news story that could arise. I decided right away I needed to break the news to the campaign about what had happened, and much to my astonishment, they were understanding. I was offered the job after all, but with specific conditions in place to hold me accountable, both to myself and to the campaign.

I have now been sober for 9 years, 5 months and 5 days.

During that period, I earned my masters degree from American University, I managed a congressional campaign, I became one of the youngest chiefs of staff on Capitol Hill, and am now chief of staff for a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring others with substance use disorders get the same opportunities I had.

I mention these milestones not out of vanity, but rather as a signal to employers that a person with a substance use disorder can be not only a solid worker but also an invaluable asset. I rose through the political ranks from an intern position to campaign manager and then chief of staff because of how hard I worked at repaying the loyalty shown to me.

That is why I am so honored to be part of the recent Employer Initiative launched here at the Addiction Policy Forum.

As you know, addiction impacts workplaces and businesses all around the country. Of adults with a substance use disorder, approximately 12 million (60%) are employed full-time. In addition to higher absenteeism and lower job productivity and performance, substance use disorders also lead to greater health care expenses for injuries and illnesses. Further, safety and other risks for employers can increase workers’ compensation and disability claims. It is essential that employers understand the science of addiction, it's prevalence among working adults, and the costs related to productivity, workplace injuries, and health.

The Addiction Policy Forum recently partnered with the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) on a ground-breaking employer initiative. The partnership will include educational materials that TIA members can share with their employees, along with access to a 24/7 alcohol and drug helpline staffed by counselors.The helpline will also offer employers and employees the ability to receive advice on how to address an issue with a person they suspect may have a substance use disorder.

The Employer Initiative has Five Components:

  1. Sign the Pledge: Companies can sign on in support of addressing addiction as a disease and public health problem through initiatives that reduce the risks associated with addiction, enable early diagnosis, facilitate access to treatment, and hasten the discovery of effective therapies.
  2. Educate and Raise Awareness: Provide education and awareness briefings (e.g. lunch-and-learn) and executive education to address addiction as a disease through evidence-based distance learning, and live content and training sessions on key topics such as prevention and early intervention.
  3. Adopt Sound Policies: Establish policies to enable prevention, early intervention, and treatment of substance use disorders in the workplace. Implement programs to recognize and support employees and their families impacted by substance use disorder, including approved leave for treatment, recovery support, family programs, and non-alcoholic corporate events.
  4. Access an employer-specific 1-800 call-in number with round-the-clock access to counselors and treatment referrals.
  5. Become a Gold Standard Company: Be recognized as a gold standard leader in the employer field by implementing educational programs, establishing positive policies around addiction, providing health insurance plans with adequate coverage for substance use disorders, and by selecting an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that addresses SUD with evidence-based approaches and services.

More than nine years after taking my last drink, I wake up now with feelings of determination, not dread. Through projects like this, the Addiction Policy Forum is determined to reach those 12 million Americans and their families who rely on employers to offer a helping hand as they seek assistance to address their disease.

Will you and your company join us in tackling this illness affecting millions of employees throughout the country?

Jay Ruais

Prior to joining Addiction Policy Forum as the Chief Operating Officer, Jay Ruais served as Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager for Congressman Frank Guinta of New Hampshire. Jay now serves as Chief of Staff for Addiction Policy Forum.