When Should you Disclose your Substance Use Disorder?


When Should you Disclose your Substance Use Disorder?


Because substance use disorder is classified as a disease, those in treatment and recovery are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a certain order of protections that shields people from various forms of discrimination, especially in the workplace and when looking for housing. Before addiction science advanced to what it is now, substance use disorder was misunderstood as a character flaw or “bad habit,” and even those who went to seek out recovery services for their substance use were made to feel ashamed. While negative sentiments towards individuals who have dealt with addiction aren’t entirely eradicated just yet, there are important laws and facts that everyone in treatment and recovery should know that can protect them and help better their lives.


Quick Facts to Know:


Currently, several vital legal obligations are protected under the law between employers, landlords, and others who are in places of management or power, and those with substance use disorder. This is essential information for those who currently have substance use disorder, whether they are in treatment or recovery, or are actively using.

  • Employers may not discriminate against a person with a history of addiction and who is also no longer using substances and has attended treatment or recovery services.

  • Employers may prohibit the use of illegal substances and alcohol within the workplace.

  • Employees misusing substances in the workplace are not covered under the ADA.

  • Those using illegal substances while employed are eligible may be discharged.

  • Employees who use substances are held to the same standards of performance as others.

  • Drug testing in the workplace is not a violation of the ADA.

  • Employees are subject to the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.


When are Substance Users Protected under the ADA?


The ADA maintains that those currently misusing substances while attending their positions in a workplace are not qualified individuals with a disability. Employers are not violating the ADA by enforcing drug-free workplace policies. To be deemed a “qualified individual” under the ADA, the following must apply:

  • The employee has successfully completed treatment

  • The employee is currently in recovery services and remains compliant

  • Employees engaging in rehabilitation no longer misusing illicit substances

  • Those erroneously accused of illegally misusing substances


Those diagnosed with substance use disorder or who have previously faced addiction may be covered under the ADA because the chronic condition is considered to be a limiting impairment. This, however, excludes casual drug users, according to the EEOC Technical Assistance Manual on the ADA.


Because of the long-lasting nature of substance use disorder, many of the intricacies of the ADA are subjective from person to person. These laws were put in place to help people who have battled addiction and attended recovery services to improve their lives with gainful employment free from discrimination from previous involvement with substance misuse or subsequent life experiences that governing bodies may attempt to use in a discriminatory fashion.


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