After an employee returns from treatment, the risk is high that relapse will occur. However, most people—and I would say even some addiction treatment professionals—do not understand the hair-trigger mentality of the recovering patient (employee) and the strong desire they may have to drink or use drugs again. What's missing is an excuse to do so, and one that be rationalized. Who better than to supply this than authority figure like a supervisor.
Alcoholics are magnets for enablers. They love enablers because these individuals can facilitate and support the addicts ready-on-deck and willing to drink or drug fragile state. Without defense mechanism helping the addict to feel less guilt, the alcohol or addict cannot satisfy their desire to use. Unless you understand enabling and its dynamics, the chances of your playing an unwitting role in relapse is high because the addict will consciously or unconsciously signal you to play along, be provocative, or same something inappropriate that will be latched on to as a doorway to facilitate relapse.
The language and behavior of addicts and alcoholics is riddled with defense mechanism dynamics. They are extremely subtle, and often unconscious. Although your psychology 101 class in college may not have more than a a few, there are actually over 40 defense mechanisms exist. You may have heard of denial or rationalizing, perhaps projection and suppression, but there are dozens more. Most escape awareness.
They key point is that supervisors and family members are sitting ducks for being re-hooked into a pathological communication dynamic with employees who have been in treatment because of the alcoholic or addict’s efficient use of their defense mechanisms.
After a week on the job, the employee appears tired and mentions to the supervisor, “Boy, keeping up with everything the EAP wants me to do, handling this workload, and also going to AA meetings five nights a week is about to kill me.”
What you would say if an employee made such statements? The best answer is to "try harder. You have a lot of responsibilities." Something...anything that does not "buy off the employee" is what your reaction should be. After training in DOT Supervisor Training or Reasonable Suspicion Training, will you sabotage what you learned?
It is unlikely in the moment or within the context of what’s been said, that you would see the relapse bear trap in front of you. However, you are about to spring it.
Compassion and empathy are the tools for killing addicts. Addicts will manipulate to have you feel sorry for their situation, but more importantly, give them permission to do something less strenuous than the recovery program that has been assigned to them by the treatment provider. Compassion and sympathy are traps. To act on these heart strings is called “killing the addict with kindness.” What's need is tough love. That's what go the addict into treatment in the first place.
If you are a compassionate sort of person, you may fall for this manipulation being described above. The response desired by your employee would be something highly sabotaging like this: “Wow, that’s a lot Jim. Five meetings a week! I hope you aren’t overdoing it. Work-life balance is also important. Will the treatment program let you take a night off from AA? Maybe your should ask."
You have just been suckered.
You have enabled the employee, sprung the trap, helped blow this employee’s recovery program. “Wait you’d say, I didn’t say or do a damn thing! The employee is responsible for their own decisions!”
You’re right, they are. No one is going to blame you for his lack of follow through or subsequent relapse, but here is what’s going to happen: The employee will rationalize a night off from AA after this discussion when they go home. And one night off leads to more. A more leads to all. And all leads to risk. And risk leads to an event. And that event causes a drink.
When you step into an employee’s personal problems, no matter how subtle, you help the employee step away from what is difficult, which is following the instructions. Addicts, like diabetics, who don't follow instructions relapse.
Your statement of empathy and concern has greased the skids for the full blown rationalization of skipping out on a meeting. Relapse is now only a matter of weeks or months at most.