Jobs in Addiction: Making a Living Out of Helping Others
Looking at jobs in the addiction treatment field can appeal to those that have overcome hardships of their own in addiction recovery.
Not only can studying addiction help a person to understand the nature of their own addictive illness but it can provide a valuable starting point with which to help others.
Many who are in recovery are often inspired by a particular professional who helped them in their time of need. This can motivate them to try and achieve the same by seeking to work in a similar position.
If you are interested in working in addiction treatment, read on to find out more about the various roles available. We also look at the impact such a job can have on your own personal recovery.
The reality of working in the addiction treatment field
Some of the most successful addiction counsellors and therapists have overcome their own battles with addiction and its common co-occurring illnesses. They tend to make superb professionals as they have a unique understanding of addiction and its common manifestations.
It is quite common for those in early recovery to want to work in the field of addiction treatment. Having found a new passion for life and gained a deeper understanding of how addiction affects themselves and others, you can perhaps understand why.
However, working in addiction treatment isn't always the dream job some may think. It often involves very long working hours and mediocre pay - unless you are working at the top of the profession. There will also be many set backs and disappointments to deal with.
On one hand, working in addiction treatment can be extremely rewarding but with the rewards will come sacrifices and instances of heartbreak.
The pros and cons of jobs in addiction recovery
Let me put this into a little context for you. I have worked in the addiction treatment field myself for many years. In the main part, it is a role I really enjoy but it hasn't been without its challenges and certainly, there have been times when it has impacted on my own personal recovery.
At the beginning, having completed 12 weeks in a 12-step rehab, it felt natural to pursue a career where I could help others with addiction. I made the common mistake of thinking this was part of my recovery programme. Yes, it's true I could be unselfish and helpful, but, being tied to a contract and by reels of red tape, making a difference proved much harder than I thought. The other aspect that I conveniently overlooked was that I was being paid to do my job. So in respect of my recovery programme, it didn't actually count for very much.
Something else I hadn't considered was that after spending all day with others in addiction, I was more reluctant to put time and effort into my own recovery after work. I also watched as colleagues in recovery tragically lost their sobriety through stress, lack of internal support and not looking after themselves. Eventually, this also happened to me.
My suggestion to anyone who is considering looking at jobs in addiction is to do your research thoroughly, speak to other employees about what the job entails and make sure your own recovery is solid. If you are able to separate your working role from your own recovery, this will help you maintain your own sobriety.
Be prepared for a steep learning curve
A lot of time, effort and emotion goes into addiction treatment. After all, you are essentially working with people who have severe mental health and behavioural issues, and not all want, or have the desire, to change and get well. This is something I learned very early on.
Also dealing with upset and desperate family members can be heart-wrenching. It would often remind me of how my own parents must have felt. Then there are the innocent children, whose emotional needs are often neglected, sometimes to a great extent. The addiction treatment field is most definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Naively, when I first studied addiction and then landed my first drug treatment role in a Category 2 male prison, I really thought I could make a difference and perhaps for a few, I did sow the seed.
As with anyone suffering from addiction, it takes great determination and tenacity to keep going when the going gets tough. Some find it too tough, that's understandable. It's no easy feat overcoming a lifetime of warped thinking and perception. This was especially true of those in the criminal justice system. The system is simply not equipped to give the support or the help that these people need. Recovering within an institution is also far cry from recovering in the real world.
Nevertheless, It was a huge opportunity for me, and I did my best, although the stress of working in such an environment did me no favours.
Working in a prison is an extreme example of jobs available in addiction. However, I learned a lot and grew threw the process.
Community addiction roles
Following on from my ‘stint’ of working in a prison, during which time I began to feel incarcerated myself, I opted to work in the local drug and alcohol sector. Whilst this position gave me much more freedom, I was met with the same red tape and barriers.
My workload was overwhelming, meaning that sessions with clients were often cut short. There was also not much room for me to use my own experience, as this was not permitted. I was encouraged by my employers to take my personal recovery out of my local area so I didn't bump into any clients at meetings. This also proved difficult as I had spent time and effort building up a local network of support.
One of the most powerful tools that any addiction treatment professional can possess is to have personal experience of overcoming addiction. It gives you the edge and clients always recognise when you are coming from a place of experience. You can literally win their trust within minutes, they respect that you know what you are talking about. However, when you can't talk about your own experience, even when you are careful to omit certain details, it becomes limiting, not to mention very frustrating.
Jobs in addiction to consider
There are many jobs in addiction treatment to consider. It is best to research each one thoroughly and see which roles would fit in with your beliefs, your recovery and your life.
If you find the right fit, the rewards can be phenomenal. Work can be enjoyable and give you purpose, rather than being a case of just turning up and doing what is required.
I have dipped my toe in many jobs in addiction, however, my passion lies in writing. It took me numerous roles and years to find this out.
Roles in addiction treatment include:
Support workers help out in rehabs and in community drug and alcohol teams. Their role is to support those that are struggling with active addiction. This means keeping your positive hat on and motivating others to achieve what you have. The pay isn't great and the hours are long but the role can be extremely fulfilling.
Needle exchange worker
Working in a needle exchange is pretty hardcore and may be triggering for some ex-users. You will meet many people that you want to help. The reality is the only way you can help is to ensure that they have clean works for their drugs that day. If harm minimisation is something you are okay with, then this can actually be an enjoyable job. You will meet lots of people from all walks of life on a day-to-day basis.
Addiction Recovery Key worker
Key workers usually work in private rehab clinics and within local drug and alcohol teams. They have specific clients assigned to them and they follow their journey throughout the time they engage with the services. Key workers provide achievable goals and also look at all areas of the person's life, making referrals wherever appropriate. You’ll need to be good with time management to succeed in this role as key workers are often overrun with heavy caseloads.
Addiction counsellors have to undergo years of study and training. It takes great commitment to become a fully qualified counsellor. However, counsellors have the skills to really make a difference to individual's lives. If working intensively one-to-one or facilitating groups is your thing then a counsellor role might be for you. Just be prepared for lots of studying and many hours working as a placement therapist.
Criminal justice system
Roles within criminal justice vary greatly, from probation worker to prison worker. This is possibly the most challenging sector but can offer the greatest rewards. Great transformations can be witnessed.... but, be warned, not everyone you try and help will want to make the necessary changes. You will also need a pretty thick skin to work within the criminal justice system, it’s not a role that suits most people.
Rehab admissions advisor
The private sector for addiction treatment is huge and there is a lot of scope for roles within this sector. Rehab admissions advisors have the job of assessing potential patients and then placing them in the correct rehabilitation treatment programme. The role is usually home-based, which suits many, and is conducted over the phone. Administration work is a large part of this job. The hours can be long but the pay can be good. This role in particular means taking calls from a lot of distressed family members and knowing how to calm and reassure them.
Things to consider when looking for jobs in addiction treatment
If you have made up your mind that you want to help others in addiction as a job, there are certain things to consider before you proceed:
- Is your own recovery solid and do you have a year or more of continuous recovery?
- Can you separate your work from life and achieve a good work/life balance?
- Are you realistic about what the role entails?
- Are you prepared to help others outside of work as part of your own personal recovery programme?
- How do your family and loved ones feel about you working in addiction?
- Do you have support, where you can let off steam about your job to someone who understands yet will remain unaffected by it?
- What additional support does the job offer to its employees that are in recovery?
- Are you able to cope with sometimes harsh events such as people overdosing, going AWOL, self-harming, becoming confrontational and being emotionally distressed?
- Does the role conflict with your own recovery beliefs and are you able to set your beliefs aside at work?
The above considerations are all important factors when looking at jobs in addiction. Some people really enjoy working in the addiction treatment field, while others find it too hard going.
One suggestion would be to start at a lower level, such as a volunteer or a support worker. This way you can gage whether the environment and work ethics are right for you. You can also weigh up if it might negatively impact your own recovery.
Consider an alternative role to help those suffering from addiction
Aside from the many front-line jobs available in addiction, there are other roles to consider. These roles enable you to help those suffering from addiction but more indirectly. Such roles may involve working as a fitness instructor, a nurse, a holistic practitioner, a nutritionist or a housing advisor.
There are many professions which will allow you to work with those afflicted with addiction from time to time, but it won't be all-consuming. This may be a better option for those that want to keep a clear boundary between work and their own personal recovery.
You may think that this article is designed to put you off working in the addiction recovery field. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It's to help you to consider the pros and the cons and most importantly keep your own recovery safe.
There is undoubtedly nothing more rewarding than playing a part in someone's recovery journey. After all, many of us wouldn't be here if it wasn't for those that work tirelessly and with dedication to helping others.
However, due to addiction being a chronic relapsing disease, miracles can be few and far between. Having realistic expectations will hold you in good stead. Whatever you do, follow your passion. Try new things and find what fits. You will know when you find it!