The United States does not have a great health care system to help people with substance use disorders (SUD). At every socioeconomic level, treatment is not easy to access. Stereotypes about addicts are outdated and inaccurate. Addiction and alcoholism are usually treated like moral failings or personal choice. The trope of the homeless alcoholic wandering the streets in rags is the story for some people, but it isn’t accurate for most individuals with an SUD.
Federal statutes set forth limited legal protections for people who are suffering from SUD by way of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People cannot be discriminated against by an employer if they have a history of SUD but are no longer using or if they are currently in a treatment program. If the employee is currently using drugs illegally, they are not protected. Alcoholism is a protected disability but an employer can still hold alcoholics to the same standards as other employees and, as noted by a court ruling, “a termination based on misconduct stemming from a disability, rather than the disability itself, is valid.” The crucial piece of these protections is that employers must give reasonable accommodation for treatment; whether that is seeing the doctor or attending 12 step meetings.
If the law is so limited for protecting employees and if stigma runs so rampant, how does one obtain professional treatment without being fired? The answer might be the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).