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The Road to Recovery: Utilizing Employee Assistance Programs to Prompt Recovery

9/23/2014 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Marsha Obremski, York-Poquoson Services Coordinator

When Rachel** was 16 years old, she took her first steps toward her dream job when she began learning to fly a plane. Now, at 35 years old, Rachel enjoys her career as a commercial pilot, but there was a time when she risked losing the position she worked toward for years.

Rachel had an addiction to pain medication.                            

Her addiction didn't start out that way: About six years ago Rachel underwent several surgeries, which left her on pain relievers.

"They allowed me to relax, and at times I felt more focused in order to get a lot accomplished," Rachel said. "I realize now that it was also a way to escape my feelings of responsibility and control."

Rachel spent periods of time off the medication in the months following surgery, which pacified her belief that she was not addicted.  Eventually though, Rachel stole medication from her father and then from a boyfriend who was a fellow pilot. Rachel's boyfriend recognized her need for help, and told her boss about the theft.

This was her wake-up call: Rachel stood at risk of losing the career she worked most of her life to achieve if she did not face her addiction and work to overcome it.

Rachel's employer is supportive of pilots who are willing to accept treatment, so she began the hard work to keep her career.

Rachel at first refused to believe she was an addict. She recognized she was not behaving normally when she stole medication or snuck around to take it, but she could not see the harm she was causing herself. Rachel reached her turning point when she admitted to taking a pill one evening before flying. At that moment she truly saw the harm she had caused herself.

"The hardest thing is looking in the mirror and admitting, 'I am an addict,'" Rachel said.   She spent a lot of time early in her recovery making the case that she wasn't an addict, while feeling the truth gnawing at her. 

Rachel faced her road to recovery and travelled it well. She has now been clean for three and a half years, but her employer still requires participation in relapse prevention groups.

Rachel attributes her success to her hard work and to the excellent support systems in her personal and career worlds.

Many employers today have systems in place to aid employees with addiction, hardship and illness, and monitor employees' ongoing recoveries.  Substance abusers years ago faced termination, which led many people to hide their substance abuse issues and mental illnesses.

Today's employee assistance programs provide free assessment, referral services and counseling sessions to individuals with substance abuse, mental health or other concerns. These services are confidential, unless referral was the result of a positive on-the-job drug screening or performance issues.

Substance abuse treatment is offered as an alternative to allow employees to maintain their positions rather than facing termination.

Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, has an employee assistance program (EAP) through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.  Ron Grett, a licensed clinical social worker, is contracted to work as an on-site Anthem EAP provider at the shipyard. Grett, as an LLC owner, is charged with assessing shipyard employees and coordinating treatment referrals; he also provides counseling and follows up with employees in the program.

Employee assistance programs by design also offer aid to people who are facing hurdles that may be related to or separate from substance abuse and mental illness.  These programs also provide help for people when enduring financial, legal, family and emotional hardships. Employees of Newport News Shipbuilding - and their loved ones - in need of assistance should contact Grett at 757-251-3670.

Grett said approximately 80 percent of the employees he is working with successfully complete treatment and maintain employment through the employee assistance program. 

Grett refers many people to Colonial Behavioral Health's Intensive Outpatient Program in York County, which is the only CARF International accredited intensive outpatient program in the area. Colonial Behavioral Health's Intensive Outpatient Programs at the York-Poquoson and Williamsburg offices are two of only five accredited programs in the state.

Recovery is change. Through this change, people improve their own health and wellness, live a self-directed life and reach their full potential. Recovery starts with a phone call to someone who can help.

If you, or a loved one, are suffering from a financial, emotional, substance abuse or mental hardship, contact your employer's employee assistance program hotline or your local Community Services Board.

Colonial Behavioral Health is the Community Services Board serving James City and York counties and the cities of Poquoson and Williamsburg. We offer a variety of services for children and adults, and have 24-hour emergency services for behavioral emergencies. Call us to schedule an appointment or find out more: 757-220-3200. We are here to help.

**This name has been changed to protect the individual's privacy.

Colonial Behavioral Health observed National Recovery Month in September, and asked our community members to share their stories, which illustrate the hardships - and achievements - people in recovery face on a daily basis. From my standpoint, it seems as if every triumph in the behavioral health field is overshadowed by stories of despair and destruction.

Communicating our successes and, more importantly, our community members' successes is paramount.

Recovery Month, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, was founded by the Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration. For more information about Recovery Month, visit www.recoverymonth.gov.

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