By: Alex Shohet

Entrepreneurship is the blog of Alex Shohet, who is the CEO and co-founder of the ONE80CENTER in Beverly Hills. Shohet studied system science engineering at UCLA but left college in 1984 because of his addiction to heroin and cocaine. In 1988, he entered a long-term treatment center in Pasadena where he found the path of recovery.

Building a Social Enterprise

Mar 16, 2012

Toward the end of my using, the more drugs I did, the less pleasure I got. At times I felt like I couldn’t get high anymore. I only got “well.” In the lingo of economics, they call this “the law of diminishing returns” and in the recovery community we call it “addiction.” Today my life is based on purpose and the focus is not on more money, fame or power but living life with purpose and service to others.

Since I started writing for, I have written a lot about social enterprise. When I was in rehab seven and a half years ago, the concept of social enterprise propelled my recovery forward. I found a way to organize my thinking where my passion and obsessive desire for building businesses was diverted away from the pursuit of money to the pursuit of social change. I saw how building a successful business could employ addicts in recovery.
social_buildingFor the last seven and a half years, I have been in pursuit of building a business that could employ addicts and alcoholics in early recovery. I started two successful drug and alcohol treatment centers—Wonderland and ONE80CENTER. It has been gratifying to employ over 100 recovering addicts over the last six years. The mission of ONE80CENTER is to employ addicts in their early days of recovery, helping to give them a sense of purpose and productivity. It’s challenging to hire people in their first year of recovery because of the potential for inconsistency and relapse.
So, I continue to look for partners to help. Recently I started volunteering at GETTLOVE in Hollywood, Calif. As I have seen many times in my life, addiction does not discriminate. It exists in families of all income levels and crosses all socioeconomic lines.
GETTLOVE was started by Aileen Getty. Aileen and I got sober around the same time. Her mission and purpose has been to help the homeless. She started a drop in a location where people living on the streets of Hollywood could get fed, take a shower and be a part of community. Building GETTLOVE helped Aileen find purpose in her recovery.
Over the last year Aileen and I have looked for opportunities to build an enterprise together that would help employ addicts in early recovery. Today we are trying again! Tune in to my blog every week for a play-by-play summary of building a social enterprise.
You’ll hear all about the growing pains of a new business, including all the failures, missteps and struggles that every new business faces. I hope at some point down the road you’ll see a new business that has been created, started, built and is being operated by recovering addicts with a triple bottom line, i.e. profit, community and support for the team members.
Stay tuned!
Image courtesy cooldesign/

What Business Can Learn from the Twelve Step

Mar 16, 2012

executive-colorMany of the thought leaders in business including Daniel Pink, Seth Godin and Peter Drucker have studied what motivates people to “perform”. These writers publish books, articles and blogs on how to get employees motivated for success and become top performers.

Most companies operate on the principle that “rewards” motivate people to perform. Company reward structures primarily focus on various forms of compensation, i.e. salaries, bonuses and commissions.
Many psychologists, however, categorize rewards into two fundamental categories “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” rewards. I looked up the definitions in Wikipedia and this is what I found...
“Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic Motivation is based on taking pleasure in an activity rather working towards an external reward ... Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards like money and grades, coercion and threat of punishment.”
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink provides a case study on Wikipedia. Pink attempts to understand why unpaid authors of Wikipedia would continue contributing. What could possibly motivate these authors? His answer, “Wikipedia authors are intrinsically motivated.”
All over the Internet, I have found business writers blogging about the effectiveness of intrinsic motivation over providing monetary awards for tasks. There is a growing movement of economists and psychologists studying why extrinsic rewards lead to decreased employee performance.
As a recovering addict who has been in recovery since 1987, I have spent thousands of unpaid hours helping other addicts stop using drugs and alcohol. In recovery it was suggested by my sponsor and many of my fellow recovering addicts that being of service to others was one of the best ways to ensure my own recovery would continue. From my personal experience over the last 25 years, I find that working with others is the best way to keep my own recovery intact. I guess I have been driven to success in my recovery by intrinsic motivation.
I read and write a lot about business, I am fascinated and intrigued by it. I continue to be amazed by how many things I learn in the Twelve Step program that contribute to my understanding of business.

My Favorite Tribe

Sep 07, 2011
Seth Godin says “we are in a key moment in time on how ideas are created, spread and implemented.” He contends, “Tribes are what matter.”

What is a tribe?  A tribe a group of between 20 and 150 people in which you either know everyone or you know of everyone in that group. In a talk for TED 2009, Seth Godin explains that leaders of tribes regularly do the following things:


I hope you get you curious enough on tribes to view Seth Godin’s full Ted talk.

I am part of many tribes; I’m part of a work tribe; I work at the ONE80CENTER; I’m part of religious tribe—I’m Jewish, which I view more as a cultural identity than a religious one; I’m part of a tribe of social entrepreneurs, which helps focus my business interests on improving the way we prevent and treat addictive disorders; and I’m part of a tribe of recovering individuals who participate in one or more Twelve Step communities.    

I belong to a Twelve Step tribe originally led by Bill W and Dr. Bob, which has more than 200 different fellowships worldwide and membership in the millions. I believe Seth Godin would define Bill W and Dr. Bob as tribe leaders who:
  • Challenged the status quo;
  • Created a culture around their goal and involved others in this culture;
  • Demonstrated an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they changed;
  • Used their charisma in a variety of forms to attract and motivate followers;
  • Communicated their vision of the future;
  • Committed to a vision and made decisions based on their commitment;
  • Connected their followers to one another.
I would recommend Seth Godin study the traditions of our Twelve Step fellowship, which provides an outline to building a successful tribe. The Twelve Traditions provide the architectural blueprints of building and maintaining successful tribes.   

Here are some key components in our Traditions that I believe can be applied to building successful tribes:
  • Our tribe’s common welfare comes first;
  • Our tribe’s authority comes from our group conscience;
  • Our tribe’s leaders are trusted servants;
  • Each tribe should remain autonomous;
  • Each tribe has one primary purpose;
  • Each tribe should never endorse, finance or lend the tribe’s name to any other tribe;
  • Each tribe should be fully self supporting;
  • Each tribe may employ special workers;
  • Each tribe may create service boards or committees directly responsible to the tribe;
  • Our tribe has no opinion on outside issues;
  • Our tribe’s public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion;
  • Our tribe places principles before personalities.
 Thank you Bill W and Dr. Bob for creating architecture for one of my favorite tribes!


Humbled by Hiring the Newly Sober

Aug 10, 2011
For the last seven years, I have been trying to figure out ways to help employ addicts in their first year of recovery. For all the reasons I have written about on the website and, hiring addicts in early recovery is very challenging.


At the 12 Angels, we have run focus groups, experimented with many forms of career mentorship programs, created a variety of internship programs, held classes on entrepreneurship and invited professionals from major educational institutions to help develop a sustainable and effective work-treatment program. 

When Michael got between 60 and 90 days of recovery [see my last post], we felt we could take a chance on getting him some work at the treatment center. We knew at the time that having Michael work at the center was not optimal. We suffer from a common problem in our industry—a lack of time and resources to do something better. So we took a chance.

At first Michael did amazingly well. The simplistic duties we asked Michael to do, he did

Our primary goal was to help Michael stay clean and make enough money to rebuild his life

conscientiously. Our primary goal was to help him stay clean while making enough money to help rebuild his life. We wanted to make sure that he had support We knew many of the job duties were below his skill set, so we were careful to check in frequently to make sure that he did not fall into feelings he was trapped in a dead-end job. 

Around the program, many people say to newcomers, “Get humble. Take any job. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you just stay clean and sober your life will change.”

For seven years, I have volunteered at nonprofit treatment centers trying to help people in early recovery understand the concept of the “get-well job.”  The “get-well job” is defined as the job you take to support your recovery.  It is not the job to get rich, build a career or change the world. The whole purpose of the get-well job is to have a simple way to stay busy while you accumulate time during your first year of recovery. 

Michael started out on fire. Then, little by little, you could see the disease start to creep

 Little by little, Michael’s recovery was chipped away

in. His “support network,” which included an “A List” celebrity sponsors and lots of very successful people, injected small doses of feeling “less than.”  Then there were a series of expectations and disappointments, followed by resentment toward the treatment center, his support team and his fellow members in the Twelve Step communities. 

Little by little, Michael’s recovery was chipped away. His old patterns and behaviors started coming back. He would borrow money or things from other people he was in outpatient with, he’d started being less supportive of the newcomers and he stopped telling people that he was sad, depressed and feeling alone. 

It started with a beer on the Fourth of July, immediately followed by a horrible family tragedy. In a flash, Michael was in detox again, struggling to find a place to stay and saying how the program doesn’t work and his friends don’t care. 

The story of Michael is common as is the story of Alex. I wish I could control the outcome of someone’s treatment and recovery. I am frustrated, disappointed and humbled by this devastating and insidious disease of addiction. It takes my sponsor’s reminder that I am responsible to do the best I can. I need to brush myself off, place one foot in front of the other and try again. I am responsible for my footwork but I am not responsible for the outcome.



Coming Under Michael's Influence

Jul 27, 2011
Michael jumped off a concrete parking structure on a Friday night after one of the largest and most popular Twelve Step meetings.  

Addicted to opiates, Michael decided to jump off the 30-foot structure in a desperate attempt to hurt himself. He hoped to end up in the hospital where he’d be given pain medication.

A regular at the meeting for more than 15 years, he knew dozens of the more than

Michael was deaf, dumb and blind to the help sitting all around him

300 people in attendance. The meeting lasted over an hour and half, during which Michael was surrounded by friends and acquaintances. Feeling alone while surrounded with friends is common for recovering addicts. Trapped between the hell of using and not being able to find recovery, Michael was deaf, dumb and blind to the help sitting all around him.

It may be that Michael was too ashamed ask his fellow members for help. Michael has the uncanny ability to live a lifestyle well above his unemployed income level. Many young debutantes, celebrities and wealthy execs have found reasons to help Michael. But his inability to abide by the Twelve Step adage “self-supporting through our own contributions” helped to speed his reputation as a cadger through whispers between members. And his constant relapsing and freeloader reputation caused some members to treat him like a person with leprosy.    

Michael luckily chose to jump off a parking structure owned by a large university that has a first-class hospital. When the medics got to Michael, he was being cared for by a number of people from the meeting. Michael, who has no health insurance and “no net worth,” normally would have been transported to a county hospital for the uninsured but the university’s policy is to take anyone hurt on their property to their swanky hospital. Michael ended up being operated on by a top surgeon and receiving the best healthcare money can buy.   

When I visited Michael in the locked-down psychiatric unit, he was being pushed around in a wheelchair by a young lady who was unable to speak except when she sang songs. The young lady pushed Michael into his private room a small distance from where now-deceased actor Jeff Conway was being treated.  

Although Michael and I were never friends, we did have a few sober people in common and that’s how I ended up visiting him in the psych ward. He told me he would do whatever it took to stay sober. He showed me his Frankenstein ankle and told me he had stopped demanding pain medications and was resolved to be clean and sober.

For the last six years, I have been trying to use my entrepreneurial passion to find 

Michael is extremely charming, intelligent, funny and could single-handedly recruit a carload of “meeting-hating” newcomers to attend a meeting

ways to combat the disease of alcoholism and addiction. I learned somewhere over the last 25 years, being around the program, that my recovery requires a higher purpose. Personally, I’m driven by the need to make a difference. In the days following my visit with Michael, one of his friends, who had been helping me with a charity focused on creating jobs and opportunities for the newly sober, asked me to help Michael.  

Over the next days, weeks and months, I found myself growing closer and closer to Michael. Initially we paid for him to go a sober living house and gave him a scholarship to our outpatient program. I started to understand why so many people helped him. Michael is extremely charming, intelligent, funny and he could single handedly recruit a carload of “meeting-hating” newcomers to attend a meeting.    

Michael connects with people. He knows recovery. His own struggle has given him plenty of knowledge of the disease. I told him he would be great working in treatment.  


How Can We Eliminate Unemployment Costs?

Jun 01, 2011
A recent “PBS News Hour” segment explored the question of why recent technology hasn't created more jobs. Economist Tyler Cowen provides a simple answer in his new book, The Great Stagnation: “We’re inventing new things, but not enough of them," he writes. "The rate of progress has slowed down.”

Cowen’s theory is that “nothing’s new in the kitchen. All the appliances, apart from the Salad Shooter, were invented decades ago. The automobile isn’t much changed since the Model T. All we’ve been doing is adding new ornaments to old innovations, and the days when technology gave rise to millions of new jobs are long gone.”

Lack of innovation is one theory about why unemployment is so high in the United States. I have a different theory on how to solve the problem. But before I provide the solution to unemployment,  let’s look at some of the costs that addiction adds to society's ledger.  

The total overall cost of substance abuse in the U.S., including productivity and health- and crime-related costs, is more than $600 billion annually, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The costs of addiction are much larger relative to other chronic diseases like diabetes, which costs society $131.7 billion annually, and cancer, which costs society $171.6 billion annually. Consider these facts:

  • Driving under the influence is responsible for 15 percent to 20 percent of all vehicle crashes.  
  • At least half of the individuals arrested for major crimes including homicide, theft, and assault were under the influence of illicit drugs around the time of their arrest
  • At least two-thirds of patients in drug abuse treatment centers say they were physically or sexually abused as children.
  • Tobacco is responsible for approximately 30 percent of all heart disease deaths each year.
  • Approximately one-third of AIDS cases, and most cases of hepatitis C in the U.S., are associated with injection drug use. Approximately 50% of pediatric AIDS cases result from injection drug use or sex with injection drug users by the child's mother.
  • 31 percent of America's homeless suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism.
  • As many as 60 percent of adults in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes.
  • Children with parents that abuse drugs are twice more likely to need special education services in school.
  • Infants born to women who smoke during pregnancy have a lower average birth weight and may be at increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders, and childhood obesity.  
  • Approximately 50% to 80% of all child abuse and neglect cases substantiated by child protective services involve some degree of substance abuse by the child’s parents.

Let's do the math. According to a recent report by the Pew Economic Policy Group, "A Year or More: The High Cost of Long-Term Unemployment," unemployment is projected to cost the U.S. approximately $168 billion in 2010. Addiction was estimated to cost the U.S. more than $600 billion. So the cost of unemployment is roughly a third the cost of addiction. In 2005, UCLA produced a study that demonstrated that every $1,583 spent on drug treatment services is offset by $11,487 in monetary benefits to society.  

So what is my solution to the impact of unemployment? With a modest investment of $23 billion by the federal government into drug treatment services, we would eliminate the $168 billion in costs of unemployment to our society.


Sponsorship: Your Path To Financial Freedom

May 18, 2011
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to find a rich sponsor then borrow a bunch of money, or to get involved in new business ventures with your sponsor, or to find a famous director to be your sponsor and see if he’ll put you in his next movie. In a Twelve Step program, sponsorship is about recovery. A sponsor is a guide to doing the Twelve Steps; a role model for working with others; a person from whom you learn how to live a spiritual life.

Why, then, would I title this blog “Sponsorship: Your Path To Financial Freedom”? As I have gotten older, I have more and more appreciation for finding mentors. Yes, it is my opinion that a sponsor is a mentor. I view my sponsor as a mentor to my recovery.

In the recovery community, especially in early recovery, many of us feel we will never find a successful career, be able to have financial independence or will be stuck in a job we hate. It is common for us to believe that our addiction ruined our opportunities for a great career.

Many of us are taught when we enter recovery to reach out and get phone numbers, ask for help, practice honesty, open mindedness and willingness. I believe we also need to be taught to find mentors in other areas of our lives in addition to recovery. It seems practicing recovery principles in our business lives will make it possible to find a great career mentor and have a great career.

Here are some of the benefits of career mentorship for both the protégé and the mentor:
  • A mentor may assist a protégé with choosing a career path
  • A mentor may assist a protégé with experience about a career
  • A mentor may assist a protégé enhance his or her own career
  • A mentor may assist a protégé increase his or her chances of promotion
  • A mentor may assist a protégé find more career satisfaction
  • A mentor may assist a protégé with managing recovery, family and work and keeping this order of priority
  • A mentor may assist a protégé with expanding their network of contacts
  • A protégé may help the mentor find more happiness and joy by being of service to the protégé
  • A protégé may energize a mentor into finding renewed interest in his or her own business or career
  • A protégé may help a mentor stay current with technology, science or literature
  • A protégé may help the mentor expand his or her community or network
Why is it that we don’t ask our Twelve Step sponsors to be our career mentor? Many times, especially in early recovery when my career was in the toilet, I was really tempted to find a financially successful sponsor hoping that they would get me a job or help me in my career. I was so desperate to be “successful” that in early recovery I valued success over recovery. Luckily for me, my sponsors never allowed me to cross this boundary. They never gave me a job, a loan or got involved in any of my brilliant business ideas.  

Mistake To Hire Sponsee
At one point in my first few years of recovery, I hired one of my sponsees. I did it with the intention of “helping” him. I thought I could be a good role model, help him out financially and reduce his worry about not being able to pay his rent and bills.

My assumption was that providing a job to a sponsee would help him in his recovery. After just a couple of weeks as employer and employee, my sponsee relapsed. I then went through all the following scenarios in my head:

My experienced told me it was unlikely that my sponsee would be able to drink like a normal person for very long. I wondered if I had endangered my business by bringing in a sponsee.

Many Questions After His Relapse
My sponsee told me he relapsed, I didn’t see my sponsee drinking on the job. Did I have a right to “fire” an employee who drank on his off hours even when he was showing up and doing his job?

What if my sponsee stole from my business or, even worse, hurt another employee. Could I risk it? Was it my moral duty to fire my sponsee and take my chances with a lawsuit?

If I was a sponsee and I worked for my sponsor, would I tell him? I was taught the importance of being rigorously honest with my sponsor. It seems to me it would be much more difficult to tell my sponsor about a relapse if it would jeopardize my job.

This real-life example taught me the value of NOT giving jobs to my sponsees. No matter how “helpful” it seems, keeping healthy boundaries in sponsor/sponsee relationships is a good policy. Keeping good boundaries and avoiding dual relationships around work and recovery keep sponsee and sponsor safe. Addiciton is a really difficult disease to put in remission. We need to honor the sanctity of the sponsor-sponsee relationship and just keep it about recovery.

Oh, just to finish my story—my sponsee quit a few days after he told me he relapsed.

What's Your Experience?
If you have some success stories of career mentorship or examples of employing your sponsee or them employing you I would love to hear them. You can send your stories to or post your comments here. Talk to you next week.


Let's Start With the Man in the Mirror

May 04, 2011

We need to change everything! How many times have we heard that in the rooms of the Program? In Program Speak this translates to “I better be willing to change everything about me if I’m going to find my path to recovery.”

In 1987, I started understanding this concept. I had just gotten out my second rehab that year when my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, played me Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” My wife and I used to blast it in her convertible VW as we cruised from meeting to coffee to meeting to eat to meeting to coffee and so on. Here’s the part I like:


I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change

Since 1987 I have been to thousands of meetings, worked hundreds of steps, done countless inventories, made quite a few amends and sponsored quite a few people. This path I have been on since 1987 is the closest thing I have to “starting with the man in the mirror and asking him to change his ways.”

Twenty-four years later its time to make the world a better place, but how? Everywhere I turn people are talking about social entrepreneurship. One of the best resources on the web to look for information on social entrepreneurs is the Skoll Foundation. Jeff Skoll was the first president of eBay, developing the company’s inaugural business plan and leading its successful initial public offering.

In 1999, Jeff launched the Skoll Foundation. It quickly became the world’s leading foundation for social entrepreneurship, driving large-scale change by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems.  

Addiction is the largest healthcare problem in the United States. Who better to take a stab at solving the problems caused by addiction then some recovering social entrepreneurs? Let’s start with the Man in the Mirror and hopefully end up making the World a Better Place. Who’s with me?



Managing the Addict in Early Recovery

Apr 13, 2011

As I have written in earlier posts, recovering entrepreneurs tend to shy away from hiring addicts in early recovery. I believe there are many legitimate reasons for an entrepreneur to be careful hiring the newly sober. Relapse is common to the recovery process; the National institute of Drug Abuse states that 40% to 60% of addicts relapse. What can happen to a company if a recovering employee relapses?

  • The employee may be late or miss work.
  • The employee may be disruptive to the workforce
  • The employee may use drugs or alcohol during the workday.
  • The employee may be less productive
  • The employee may steal from the company or its customers.

Even if an addict in early recovery does not relapse, they may be less productive, more emotional or more challenging to work with. What can an employer do to improve productivity with an addict in early recovery?

  • The employer should have a written plan for “an intervention” if the employee relapses.  This may include a referral to an outpatient program that provides drug testing or a short or long-term residential treatment.
  • The employer may support the recovering addict by providing a flexible work schedule that allows for attending Twelve Step meetings, an outpatient program and/or other recovery support services.
  • The employer may want to provide an on-the-job mentor who will work closely with the recovering addict.
  • The employer should have a written policy for all employees, which allows the company to test employees who are suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • The employer may want to choose a less demanding role in the company for an addict in early recovery.
  • The employer can establish with the agreement of the recovering employee a small group of coworkers to be trained and available for support.

Why would any business owner or manager go through all this trouble and risk to hire an addict in early recovery?  Here are my top three reasons:

  1. Many addicts in early recovery cannot find employment due to inconsistent work histories, felony convictions and poor professional references. This lowers the recovering addicts value in the market. Many recovering addicts need to reestablish their value and their reputations by working for less than their previously made. An employer that takes the risk to employ an addict in early recovery may be able to get a highly valuable and loyal employee well below their market value.
  2. Management consultant and author Peter Drucker believed that it was important to promote the well-being, health and development of the human being while at work. That means aligning one's strengths with one’s values. Most recovering entrepreneurs will explain that, after getting sober, they valued the way recovery impacted their business lives. If we follow Drucker’s recommendations, it is natural to align an entrepreneur’s recovery to the well-being, health and the development of their employees. What better way than employing an addict in early recovery?
  3. All of us in recovery were once newly sober; it is hard to imagine a more valuable asset to a person’s recovery process than a recovery-friendly work environment.

It will take time, understanding and risk to hire an addict in early recovery but the benefits of your effort may be sobriety or life.


Would Microcredit Work in the Recovery Community?

Mar 30, 2011
Microcredit (microloans) is a financial innovation that is generally considered to have originated with the Grameen Bank. The Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for helping seven million people in poverty receive loans; since the founding of the bank about $6 billion has been loaned and the repayment rate is 99 percent.

What can microcredit do for the recovery community? How can it help?

Many recovering addicts have horrible credit, have ruined their professional reputation and have exhausted the support of their families. In effect, many recovering addicts start rebuilding their lives in poverty. Feeling financially hopeless and overwhelmed at becoming self-supporting, early sobriety is a minefield for relapse. Imagine how difficult it is to find a job—especially one that can alleviate years of financial wreckage—if you’ve just spent three to six months in a treatment center. I don’t think most employers view treatment as a form of higher education. (Not yet anyway. ?)

For any business owners reading this article, would you hire an addict in early recovery? What if I told a you that 40 to 60 percent of all addicts in early recovery are going to relapse?

Let’s analyze this statistic from the perspective of the employers. We’re asking them to endanger their companies to a person who may not show up for work, may use drugs or alcohol while on the job, or may lie or steal to enable their drug or alcohol use. Asking the typical employer to hire an addict in early recovery is quite an obstacle to overcome.

What about asking recovering employers? Would an employer who once was in the exact same position of being in early recovery be more willing to hire an employee in early recovery? The answer, in my informal research, is no. I originally assumed I would find more willingness within my group of recovering entrepreneurial friends to help. I assumed sayings like “one addict helping another” would extend to hiring an addict in early recovery. Evidently, it does not. 

So what does one do in early recovery for work? Is it reasonable to assume that family, friends, charities or the government are helping addicts in early recovery? Is this a problem that needs to be addressed? My experience is that addicts in early recovery find employment really, really challenging.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that more than 20 million addicts need treatment. During the last couple of years, the national unemployment rate has hovered around 9 percent, or 14 million people. Unemployment rates for individuals with serious mental illness are as high as 90 percent. There are many myths about addiction but the difficulty people in recovery have in pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps is not one of them.

A study conducted by John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, entitled the “The Anguish of Unemployment” sought to produce a representative view of unemployed workers' attitudes. An overwhelming majority of the survey's respondents said they feel or have experienced anxiety, helplessness, depression and stress after being without a job. Many said they've experienced sleeping problems and strained relationships and have avoided social situations as a result of their job loss. (Click here to see a copy of the report.)

At ONE80CENTER, the treatment center I co-founded last year, I watch feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, depression and stress lead addicts into relapse every day. In my opinion, unemployment contributes to relapse. 

We need a way to create more jobs for addicts in early recovery. How? What amount of money would equalize the risk of hiring an addict in early recovery? Could an organization equalize the negative effects of hiring an addict in early recovery on the competitiveness of the company by providing a microloan?

Would a recovering business owner hire a person in early recovery if they were given a
What Is Microcredit?

Microcredit (or microloans) is the extension of very small loans to those who do not qualify for traditional forms of financing. The borrowers usually lack collateral or a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit.

Microcredit is designed to spur entrepreneurship. Microcredit emphasizes trust building, which can enable micro-entrepreneurship which, in turn, can generate employment and help people to help themselves.
“low” interest loan of $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000? This may be of significant value to a recovering employer who would not typically qualify for a loan.
The studies that have examined microcredit programs demonstrate that recipients of the loans create larger enterprises, experience an increase in personal income, have personal savings, and feel a greater sense of empowerment and higher self esteem.

Why extend credit to recovering business owners? What can we expect in return? What are the requirements to qualify for a loan?
  • We can require our recovering business owners and entrepreneurs to have multiple years of continuous sobriety and help them maintain their own sobriety with increased accountability to the microcredit organization.
  • We can ask our borrowers to pay back the loans with interest and participate in our entrepreneurship classes and business education programs.
  • We can ask recovering entrepreneurs to hire addicts in their first year of recovery.
  • We believe the newly sober person working for an entrepreneur in recovery would receive more support, accountability and understanding than from a traditional employer.
I believe a microcredit organization would be an effective tool for reducing some of the billions of dollars of damage that occurs every year in the United States from addiction. For information on the economic damage caused by addiction, please see this 1992 report from NIDA. I've not seen a more recent report but I'm quite sure that the fundamental economics remain the same. I'd like to be able to look back in another 20 years and and see that we were able to reverse the trend.

I welcome your comments or suggestions in the section below or by email.



Building Businesses on the Path to Recovery

Mar 23, 2011

In the Middle of Difficulty, Lies Opportunity —Albert Einstein 

My name is Alex Shohet and I’m a recovering addict. And a serial entrepreneur.

I have not used drugs and alcohol since May 3, 2004; previously I had eight-and-a-half years and three-and-a-half years of recovery. Since 1987, I have lived in ten different treatment centers and sober livings. If I add up the time I’ve spent in rehab, it comes to over 2 years.  

I dropped out of UCLA in my senior year. Over the last 33 years, my longest stretch of employment was nine months. I’ve been fired, quit or walked off numerous jobs. Would you hire me?  

When the team at asked me to write this blog on entrepreneurship, I felt a warm rush and I have been smiling ever since. 

Here’s why. Six-and-a-half years ago, I was doing a six-month stint in rehab.  42 years old, I was unemployed. The technology company I started eight years before didn’t want me back. I had a wife with 17 years of recovery and a young daughter.  

In rehab, I was in tremendous fear. I was afraid no one would hire me. I hated working in the technology industry. Looking around at the rehab I saw a hundred other people without jobs. It was really depressing. I felt old, obsolete and hopeless. I was in the rehab six long months. I got to watch a lot of my friends leave rehab, relapse, return to rehab; leave rehab, return to rehab, leave rehab, disappear or die.  

I asked myself why is this disease of addiction so deadly? Why do people doing so well while “in” rehab have such a difficult time leaving and staying in recovery? 

When it is time to leave rehab and get a job, every treatment center I have been to uses the same line: “Get Humble”, take any job you can find. The career counselor told many of my fellow rehab inmates “get a job at Starbucks.” My friends in rehab, like myself, didn’t buy it. I had a mortgage, a family and bills. It seemed too overwhelming to me to work at a job well below my education, abilities or experience. (P.S. Nothing against Starbucks; I admire the company quite a bit.)

As I went to meeting after meeting, I started to notice a lot of entrepreneurs in meetings. I saw plumbers, contractors, public relations specialists, mortgage brokers, attorneys all running their own small businesses. At one morning meeting more than 80% of the 30 regulars ran their own business. This was so fascinating to me. I asked myself why. Why would so many people in recovery have their own business? 

Wanna hear my theory? I call it “The Theory of Entrepreneurship in the Recovery Community.” The theory goes like this:

 “When traditional forms of employment are not available to recovering individuals and it becomes apparent that the greatest opportunity to make a decent living is to do it on your own; we start our own businesses.”

Why aren’t jobs available to recovering individuals? Here are some observations:

  • Many of us have months or years of unemployment due to our addictions, which are difficult to hide on our resumes;
  • Many of us have drug or alcohol related criminal charges on our records;
  • Many of us have destroyed most, if not all, of our personal and professional relationships, which make it really difficult to find good work opportunities.   

When the path to finding a good job is blocked, why do so many of us choose to start our own businesses?

  • Most addicts and alcoholics have developed astonishing survival skills.  When I was out using heroin and cocaine on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, I believed I had the survival instincts of a cockroach.
  • In recovery, addicts and alcoholics develop persistence. We are encouraged to take one step at a time and continue to trudge the road to happy destiny. This is a vitally important skill in starting and building a business.
  • We learn to be honest and have integrity. This helps differentiate recovering entrepreneurs from regular business owners. Many small business owners rely on referrals to generate new business. Word travels fast when you “do what you say you are going to do”;
  • It is easier to print a business card that says “Alex the Plumber” than it would be to get a job at a large plumbing company. Most large plumbing companies perform background checks and call references. Many of us in recovery look horrible on our resumes and would fail a background check; 
  • Many of us dealt drugs as a way to pay for our use. Some of us built drug dealing organizations, managing people, building distribution networks and thriving on an industry with very “high gross margins.”

In recovery we are told to be honest. Someday I hope I achieve the level of honesty to answer job interview questions honestly. My responses would go something like this:

Interviewer: How do explain being unemployed for the last 6 months?

Alex: I got fired from my last job for stealing money to buy heroin and cocaine. I just completed 6 months and my counselor says I’m ready to work.

As I was leaving rehab, I hadn’t achieved that level of honesty in recovery, so I chose the path of entrepreneurship. And I think it was the right choice.

I have founded five companies since 1989. Those five companies have employed hundreds of people. The combined revenue for the five companies is well $100 million. For a person who never made more than $50,000 a year working for someone else, entrepreneurship was the right path for me.  

During the last 20 years, I have met some amazing "entrepreneurs in recovery." These men and women have built some awesome companies, created millions of jobs and have led our nation into new frontiers in business. Along the way our recovering entrepreneurs have made huge contributions to our society; this concept of giving back is one of the tenets of our recovery program. I believe our recovering entrepreneurs help repair the damage addiction does to our society. 

Since this is my first blog on entrepreneurship for, I would love people to tell us about your “recovery” story of entrepreneurship in the comments section below.

From the statistics it looks like addiction is the largest healthcare problem in the nation. I believe entrepreneurship may be the secret weapon to defeat it! 

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