Windsor

Addiction makes it hard, not impossible, to work in Windsor

Looking for a job, while dealing with their illnesses, can be a struggle for addicts. Doing so in Windsor, the former long-time unemployment capital of Canada, is even more difficult.

Windsor's unemployment rate sits at 7.7 per cent

After years of struggling with addiction and difficulty holding a job, Stephanie Prenger is now the kitchen manager at the Windsor Life Centre. (Sean Previl for CBC News)

This week, CBC Windsor is featuring some of the major projects by students in the media convergence program at St Clair College. CBC Windsor has teamed with the students to help highlight their work online and on the radio on Windsor Morning.


Stephanie Prenger was lying on the floor of her apartment, incapacitated, unable to speak. She was suffering from the effects of her most recent bout with alcohol abuse.

Her aunt found the incoherent 30-year-old and rushed her to a detox centre.

When alcohol withdrawal started within a few hours, however, the woman had to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment.

Other stories from St. Clair College students include:

While Prenger spent 13 hours on an IV, her aunt researched treatment programs and found the Windsor Life Centre in Windsor.

Prenger didn't know it yet, but being that close to the end would actually be the beginning of her journey back into the working world — as a sober woman. For years, alcohol had cost her job after job.

Her addiction started when she was eight. She developed an eating disorder to cope with social anxiety. At 13, she started drinking to feel more confident in public. 

When she entered the working world as a hairstylist, her addiction worsened. She partially blamed the workplace.  

'I wasn't able to function'

"Being a hairdresser [drinking] was acceptable," says Prenger, now 31. "People go out at lunchtime and have a drink. I was in the right industry for that."

For five years, Prenger owned two hair salons, one in Waterloo and another in Hamilton. Eventually she closed both, finding it too stressful.

She eventually moved to Toronto to manage hair salons and to try to escape her addictions. Instead, she started using cocaine, too.

"They're feeding something within; your insecurities," Prenger said of her drugs and alcohol. "Sometimes I would have a little bit of a dry spell or a time where I was OK. But then the second that the rug got pulled out from underneath of me or something happened, it was kind of like being on a teeter-totter."

When an issue like a break-up or family crisis arose, it became more difficult for Prenger to hide the addiction.

"I was calling in sick, changing appointments. I wasn't able to function," says Prenger.

'Your functioning level declines'

Windsor Life Centre executive director Fiona MacDonald, right, says resume-building, interviewing techniques, computer skills and several others are all taught to residents there. (Sean Previl for CBC News)

According to addictions specialist Dr. Tony Hammer, there can be many issues that make it difficult for an addict to keep their job, especially while trying to recover. It can result in deception, lying and other issues leading to an increased number of problems at work.

In some cases, those with addictions are holding two jobs, adding to the stress.

"I think of it in terms of having two jobs because it is so demanding … and as it progresses, your functioning level declines and at that stage an employer is likely to notice," says Hammer.

It is considered discrimination in Canada to fire someone solely for their addiction, but side effects, such as productivity loss, can result in termination.

Working as an addict is not impossible. In fact, in the past five years Withdrawal Management Services at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare saw more than 2,000 people who were working while living with an addiction.

Looking for a job, while dealing with their illnesses, can be a struggle for addicts. Doing so in Windsor, the former long-time unemployment capital of Canada, is even more difficult.

Although Windsor no longer had Canada's highest unemployment rate in March, it still remains in the top 10 at 7.7 per cent. 

For job hunters living with addiction, that rate may be even higher. Of the 1,525 people who passed through the doors of withdrawal management in 2015, about 250 were unemployed and looking for work.

Getting rid of barriers

Dr. Tony Hammer says recovering addicts sometimes turn to deception, lying and other issues, leading to an increased number of problems at work. (Sean Previl for CBC News)

When looking for jobs, addicts can face more difficulty due both to already having lost a job and a loss of confidence, for example.

Windsor Life Centre executive director Fiona MacDonald says those losses are why treatment programs can be beneficial for someone re-entering the workforce. It can help them regain that confidence.

"What we try to do is make sure that they're rid of those barriers of unemployment before they walk out of here," says MacDonald.

Job skills, including resume-building, interviewing techniques, computer skills and several others are all taught to residents there.

The WLC, which is a residential facility for women, also offers a postgraduate program allowing women to live at the centre, while working in the community or at the centre. Prenger works as kitchen manager there.

MacDonald says 90 per cent of the WLC's graduates are contributing to their communities either through employment or other activities such as volunteering.

MacDonald says employers need to help addicts by hiring them.

"Look at them with the eyes you would look at anyone else, to cast that word or stigma aside and to look at the individual and their skillset and maybe motivations that they have within them," MacDonald said. "I'm not saying anything new but I would so encourage people to be able to look at a person with an addiction past with new eyes, fresh eyes."

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