Addiction may be a disability, but it’s not an excuse

by The Discovering Alcoholic on December 26, 2008

Original photo by pattista now at The Discovering Alcoholic

I sometimes struggle with the whole addiction as a disability argument because it seems the only time I hear it being used is as an excuse for unacceptable behavior or criminal action. Take for instance this Ottawa police officer canned for theft and illicit drug use who is suing for his job back under the pretense the department should make allowances for his disability of drug addiction.

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He was ordered dismissed in December 2006 following a police disciplinary hearing. He admitted to taking crack cocaine from motorists he stopped as well as from the evidence locker… his lawyer says the case raises an important issue around the responsibility of police to accommodate officers who suffer from the “disability of drug addiction.” Vancouver Sun

As an advocate, I cringe when I hear stories like this because I think it adds to the stereotype of the addict/alcoholic gaming the system- which this guy and his lawyer are clearly doing. This guy wasn’t fired for being an addict, he was fired because he broke department rules, and more importantly, he broke the law. This does not signify my disagreement that addiction should be considered a disability; just that it is not a relevant argument in this case.

In my case as recovering alcoholic I can actually say that my disease has been ultimately empowering, but this doesn’t mean that one day just the fact that I am in recovery could be used against me. If an employee in otherwise good standing is dismissed when it is discovered they are in a methadone treatment program, that would be the time to bring up the disability argument. Same goes for employees that voluntarily go to treatment before their addiction becomes a work issue, they should not be discriminated against. The disability classification should be used to facilitate treatment and recovery, not as an excuse for the past.

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