By Guest Columnist TERESA WREN JOHNSTON, director of the KSU Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery; state coordinator of Georgia Network; and founding president of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education
Please answer the following employment application questions honestly: Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness? Have you been treated for alcoholism or substance use?
Even if George Washington could “never tell a lie,” in today’s fast-paced, super-efficient business world, the online employment application and faceless vetting out of future employees makes it hard for young adults in recovery from addiction to do the right thing when confronted with the application check box.
One click, one chance gone down the drain. Some may say it’s all right to lie given the implications of a truthful answer.
I don’t agree. And I don’t think most employers want to hire dishonest employees.
At Kennesaw State University’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery, we mentor our young adults in recovery who are seeking careers to always tell the truth – even at the risk of being weeded out of a particular job.
The student in recovery from addiction has a past that comes with consequences that were often a defining moment in their lives. That same defining moment, also called a bottom, can provide a moment of clarity when the brain so deeply affected by substance use is infiltrated by an act so contrary to a person’s values that insight returns.
One of our students describes it this way: “I was a felon. I was arrested and convicted for credit card fraud, and the day that happened, I couldn’t believe how low I had sunk to sustain my drug use.”
Today, this student is rapidly approaching the online application process for internships, co-ops and future jobs. Now a man in long-term recovery for more than three years, he is in a trusted leadership role handling the funds for the collegiate recovery community. Maintaining a solid 4.0 grade point average, he may be the best human resource investment a firm could make. But he may never be hired because he did the right thing: he checked the box.
We all understand that actions have consequences. Our brains help us decide right from wrong. But with the disease of addiction, the very organ we use to make decisions is affected. Choice, insight and even the instinct to protect one’s own life are affected in a negative way by prolonged substance use.
After treatment, as one begins the recovery journey, the brain begins to heal. As a field, neuroscience, addiction medicine and behavioral health continue to explore the function of the brain and how it is impacted by addiction.
Continued exploration and understanding of our main operating system impacts the care and treatment of this disease. As we better understand how the brain functions, we can develop and refine current treatment practices.
We know that treatment works, as do community support, peer support and collegiate recovery community support. Many people do well in recovery. One of those folks is Michael Botticelli. And he checked the box.
Recently, the U.S. Senate confirmed Botticelli as the director of National Drug Control Policy. It’s worth noting what he said, whether or not you are struggling with addiction or on the road to recovery yourself.
“Tonight, the United States Senate voted to confirm my nomination as director of National Drug Control Policy. This is an honor I never dreamed of 26 years ago; when my substance use disorder had become so acute that I was handcuffed to a hospital bed. I accept this challenge with the humility and tenacity of someone in long-term recovery.”
The humility and tenacity of someone in long-term recovery speaks to character commitment and civic engagement. This is the person in long-term recovery, your future employee.
As our world continues to keep pace with the ever-changing technology of our times, will we miss the opportunity to recruit some of the best and brightest of our generation in the checking of a box?
Editor’s note: Kennesaw State University’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery will host the Neuroscience, Addiction Treatment and Young Adult Conference April 8 – 10. Keeping pace with the cutting-edge research, dozens of experts in the field will be on campus. Researchers including Dr. Christina Wierenga from the University of California, San Diego; Dr. Lindsay Squeglia from the University of South Carolina; Dr. Merrill Norton from the University of Georgia, Dr. Michael Windle from Emory University and Dr. Edward Levin from Duke University are scheduled to share their research across a wide expanse of disciplines including substance use disorders, eating disorders, pharmacology and human development.