Many of us have had, at the very least, second-hand experience with addiction, if not first-hand. Perhaps we know someone who’s struggled (or is struggling) with addiction, has struggled ourselves or has seen the devastating effects that addiction can have on individuals and families.
It’s common to want to support our friends and loved ones as they work to recover from their addiction and make new lives for themselves. But what if you wanted to take that one step further and make supporting those suffering and recovering from addictions a life’s pursuit? There are many ways you could make that a career, although some paths are doubtlessly more challenging than others.
Obviously, becoming a physician is an ambitious career choice. Physicians specialising in addiction follow the best practices of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and put specific skills to use to support recovering people with addiction. They might help patients understand their addiction, provide them with tools and guidance to avoid relapse, and help with administering medication for those who need it (such as in the case of opioid addiction).
If becoming a physician is out of reach, consider the field of nursing. For those looking to advance their careers, without the long and arduous path of becoming an MD, a career as a nurse practitioner can be a great choice.
Nurse Practitioners focus on patient observation and care, like RNs. The main difference though is that NPs are able to prescribe treatments, order tests, and diagnose patients much like a physician can, while an RN cannot. Nurse Practitioners have greater autonomy and flexibility and can work in a variety of clinical settings such as hospitals and substance abuse centres.
For those that are looking to truly specialize in substance abuse, consider a career as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). There’s a shortage of mental health professionals and an increasing demand for addressing the mental health needs of individuals (including those with substance abuse problems) throughout the US, making PMHNPs in high demand.
A clinical supervisor works in hospitals and treatment centres, working to manage and lead clinic staff members. A clinical supervisor provides help in a more administrative fashion, ensuring that treatment programs and regimens run smoothly.
This might include holding meetings to check on patient progress, ensuring the quality of care, providing consultation on dealing with challenging clients, and assisting with inspections and staffing issues.
A prevention worker’s job is to help reduce addiction at the source, by helping with alcohol and drug prevention activities and programs. They might work with schools, law enforcement, or medical institutions to educate individuals about the harm addiction can cause, how to recognize the symptoms and triggers of addiction, and otherwise work to stop addiction before it can begin.
Unlike some of the other professions listed here, a career as a prevention worker can likely be obtained with nothing more than a high school diploma and perhaps some training and certification.
Substance abuse counsellor
For those who want a more involved and personal approach to supporting recovering addicts, there’s the career path of a substance abuse counsellor. An addiction counsellor works directly with people who are suffering from addiction and substance abuse problems while they’re in treatment or recovery. Counsellors may also work with family and friends to both support them and help them provide support for the addict in turn.
An addiction counsellor might draw up a custom treatment plan for a patient, identify any possible addiction triggers, work with the recovering individual on any emotional or behavioural issues, and help track and document the patient’s process. While not all counsellor positions will require a degree, some call for at least a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology, or social work.
Scientist or researcher
One of the more advanced ways individuals can help those contending with addiction is by entering into the field of scientific research. Addiction is a disease, and like any disease, should be studied for its root causes, treatments, and possible solutions. Neuroscientists, social scientists, public health researchers, and other figures in the scientific community can bring their unique skill sets to bear on helping with addiction treatment, support and awareness.
Researchers into addiction study the parts of the brain affected by substance abuse, the effects of genetics on the development of addiction, possible patterns and causes of the disease, and developing treatment methods. This is one of the most vital and important professions in the battle against addiction.
Recovery support roles are typically for those who have experienced addiction themselves and now want to help others in their struggle. People in recovery support act as role models, share their expertise and experience, coach and mentor others, and otherwise provide support. They typically work in treatment centres and with support groups, providing guidance, goals, milestones and encouragement for those on the road to recovery. They might also assist with ancillary problems like housing, employment, education, mental health care, child welfare, and even criminal justice if necessary.
Working for others in the battle against addiction is perfectly valid, and great for some. But for those looking to forge their own path, there are plenty of opportunities. If you’re organized, patient, and willing to dedicate the time, you can start your own support group, though you’ll have to secure funding and a venue yourself, rather than expecting it to be taken care of by a third party. You could even choose to open your own rehab centre if you have the resources and drive to do so. Entrepreneurs of every stripe are starting their own companies to help support those looking to beat their addiction once and for all.
It takes a special kind of person to devote their lives and careers to helping others with this devastating disease, but the rewards can be life-changing.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.