Balancing Work-Life While Overcoming Addiction

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on November 29th, 2023
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

When people go to rehab, the concept is that they can devote themselves to wellness and recovery.  But does that logic really work?  Or are they isolating themselves from the challenges they need to face in living addiction free?  Moreover, are they detaching themselves from the strengths – the skills, people, and satisfactions – that give their lives meaning and support change?


The Challenge of Maintaining Work-Life Balance to Achieve Recovery

People find their ordinary lives to be anywhere from challenging to overwhelming.  We don’t have to remind you of the stresses.  Earning a living.  Dealing with colleagues and coworkers. Trying to get ahead and to establish a career and be a success. Meeting the demands of home life — including family — while working.

Just listing these basic elements of balancing work and living can be exhausting!  And, of course, these are the kinds of stressors that drive people to addictive excesses like drinking, pharmaceutical or recreational drugs, disengaging activities like gaming or gambling or sexual engagements.

So it’s no wonder that, for those who can afford them, people enter resort-like rehabs to focus on themselves, relieve stress, and discard bad habits and consuming addictions.

And then what? They leave rehab.  And face what?  All of those demands and stressors that drove them to their addictions and that sent them into rehab in the first place.  Is it any wonder that people famously quit addictions in rehab, only to relapse almost instantly after the doors of the rehab shut behind them.  (Some people even stash drugs for just that moment.)

Does that sequence really make sense?

Or is there another way?


Practicing freedom from addiction in life

Consider this as your task: How will I achieve freedom from addiction and remain addiction-free in my ordinary life?

How does one learn how to do that?

Practice, practice, practice.

In other words, dealing with work and life stress is one of the skills necessary for recovery.  That should be a part of your therapy.

From this framework, actively participating in life while combating addiction makes the most sense.

Introducing the data.  When you enter an expensive rehab you might think, “This is the perfect environment for me to overcome my addiction.”  But a seminal review of all the available comparative research discovered that “Findings from 26 controlled studies have consistently shown no overall advantage for residential over nonresidential settings, for longer over shorter inpatient programs, or for more intensive over less intensive interventions in treating alcohol abuse.”

Indeed, what advantages were shown favored the less intensive, outpatient settings!

Subsequent research made that picture more complicated.  In particular, two primary factors allowed people to benefit more from outpatient, less intensive treatment: the absence of severe psychiatric conditions, and the presence of strong social support in people’s lives (including marital partners).  So there is no escaping the need for seeking emotional well being and connecting with other people — subjects covered in other blog posts in the LPP series.


The role of meaningful work in recovery

Other research suggests a third factor: meaningful work involvements. In particular, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion found: “Fulfilling jobs that pay a living wage and facilitate economic mobility contribute to healthy, secure lives and financial security that extends across the lifespan. Productive, rewarding work also contributes to happiness and has a positive impact on families and communities — and financial security is critical for well-being.”

But isn’t this simply good common sense?  If you spend much of your day at work, if it is a central activity in your life, then a fulfilling occupation is bound to be uplifting and psychologically grounding.

But meaningful work extends beyond good paying jobs.  It includes, among other things, school, volunteer work, part-time as well as full-time employment.

Ways to Handle Work Stress

And, so, for many — perhaps most — people seeking recovery, the task is to learn to deal with work stress while achieving fulfillment and avoiding addictive habits.  Here are five tips for doing so.

  1. Engagements outside of work.  You probably need to find ways to spend your time in addition to work, and to make these satisfying without being addictive. Can you imagine what such activities would be?  How about spending time with family (especially children) and friends.  Formulating these as convivial or nurturing relationships, rather than sexual or intimate ones, puts such connections in a more manageable context.
  2. Volunteer, helping activities.  Devoting your energy to things that don’t solely benefit yourself is another way of being energized and engaged without the sense of being driven by imperative, survival-oriented, work.
  3. Fun.  It’s an old-fashioned idea, but how about having fun?  This may be something that you’ve done in the past, but forgotten how!  In fact, child development specialists have noted, children have a special orientation towards having fun that most people leave behind as they age.  Can you recall the kinds of activities that brought you pleasure as a child?  Walking in a field?  Listening to birds?  Kicking a ball around or shooting baskets?  Singing?  Drawing?  Try to recall, then to recreate, those halcyon childhood days.
  4. How about relaxing at work.  Can you try to lower the stress level while working?  How might you do that?  By seeing the fun of it, or making tasks fun, including reflecting on work positives and task enjoyment.  Or by simply saying to yourself: “This isn’t life or death. It’s a job, or way of making a living or getting ahead.  Nearly everybody accomplishes this and manages to get through their work lives and then to retire.
  5. Spiritual, meditative, relaxing thinking and activity.  Modern workplaces often include, in addition to gaming spaces, places simply to relax and recharge.  These include green spaces, walking trails, benches for lulling around or conversing with fellow travelers, meditation or prayer or just quiet rooms.  High tech firms with these amenities have reasons for having them.  Their purpose is to achieve the goal of this section — to help people be calm and productive at work.  But you don’t have to work at a famous tech company to embrace such techniques.



Work is generally a necessary — and a desirable — part of people’s lives. People are required to make a living.  But also they need work to provide their lives with a focus — giving them a place to go and something to do for a major part of their day/life.  Virtually all of us know the sense of pride and the good feelings that stem from a job well done, including praise and appreciation from other, meaningful people in our home and work worlds.  It seems fair to call this a natural, essential part of being human.  And a parallel aspect of a positive work life is that it does not overwhelm you or preoccupy you to the exclusion of other parts of your life.

We don’t have to go very far afield or dig too deeply into the weeds to figure this out.  It’s commonsensical. And curing, avoiding, and recovering from addiction is, above all, a matter of common sense.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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