In 2012, 2.5 million people completed treatment for a drug or alcohol abuse problem.[1]

It took a lot of people to rehabilitate these individuals and prepare them for life in sobriety. Who are these people and what do they do? How can you become one of them? You might be surprised to find many of them have actually walked in the same shoes as the addicts they treat. Many addicts are inspired to tell their stories to others in hopes that it will have an impact or help them in some way. For some though, this isn’t enough; they want to do more. Many addicts are out of work before they even enter treatment. In 2006, 33.2 percent of people admitted to treatment reported being out of work; that figure increased to 41.6 percent by 2011.[2]

While unemployment can be a real concern for a lot of recovering substance abusers, the addiction treatment field is frequently looking for those who have firsthand experience with addiction and the compassion that comes with that experience.

If you find yourself searching for the right career path or in need of a strong purpose in life, treating other addicts might just be worth looking into.

When an addict prepares to leave treatment, they naturally have concerns over what comes next. Will they be able to make amends with loved ones who they have hurt? How will they support themselves? Where will they find a job? Do they have to divulge their history with substance abuse to their new employer? All of these questions are legitimate and the answers are often not simple.

The Many Careers in the Field of Recovery

Careers in the addiction recovery field are in great demand, often because the rate of turnover can be high. One study notes that one in three substance abuse counselors and one in four clinical supervisors across 27 American treatment facilities left their jobs over the course of one year.[3]

Another study reports a need of 5,000 new counselors every year just as replacements for those who are retiring.[4]There are several positions that are hiring frequently and of vital importance to the rehabilitation experience.

Counselors, Therapists and Doctors

The primary job that comes to mind when most think of the recovery field is the addiction counselor. Some addictions counselors are licensed psychiatrists, whereas others have a master’s degree in counseling, oftentimes specifically substance abuse counseling or addiction counseling.Psychologists are employed by treatment facilities, and it’s a field that is expected to see rapid growth. From 2012 to 2022, the field of substance abuse counseling is expected to grow 31 percent. Part of that rapid growth is attributed to insurance companies now being required to offer broader coverage for mental health and addiction treatment.[5]

Many people are confused by the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists, but it’s actually quite simple. The psychologist focuses more on talk therapy and helping to teach coping mechanisms and strategies for avoiding relapse when presented with triggers. Psychologists may also oversee group therapy sessions and guide people during family counseling to help repair relationships between the addict and their family members. Psychiatrists have more training and a higher level of education that allows them to prescribe medications and treat more severe conditions, such as mental health disorders. Substance abuse is a part of life for 29 percent of all people with a diagnosed mental illness.[6]

Securing one of these positions won’t come without schooling and time spent in clinical rotations, but for those who put in the work, the reward can be tremendous.

Administrative Workers

A position in administrative support is an ideal job for recovering addicts who want to break into the addiction treatment field. These individuals answer phones, speak with prospective patients, and get them registered for rehab. They serve as reception when new treatment candidates show up, and they check out patients when they leave, as well as manage the financial details of every patient’s treatment plan.

These administrative staff members are the backbone of what keeps the business side of a treatment facility running smoothly.


Social Workers

Social workers are also prominent figures during the treatment process. Sometimes referred to as “case managers,” these professionals are licensed in their field and generally possess master’s degrees.

Vocational Counselors

Vocational counselors are the part of an addict’s treatment experience who assist with career placement. They can help patients find out which career field suits them and assist in securing positions in those fields. They can also help patients find ways to be happier in the field they are already proficient in. To work as a vocational counselor, you will have to be licensed in the field. Most states require a master’s degree for this, but some only require a bachelor’s degree. As of 2011, counseling for employment and training programs were offered by more than one-third of treatment facilities.[7]

Nurses and Detox Support Specialists

Nurses generally need to have at least an associate’s degree. Some will have more years in school while all come out with a licensure as a registered nurse. The nursing professional is often the most in demand profession in the rehabilitation sector. Nurses are needed at intake to monitor vitals and assist with lab tests. They perform regular drug screenings on patients and oversee them during detox.

Nurses are incredibly important to the detox process as they monitor patients, ensuring they are comfortable and safe throughout the process. The overall detox process is designed and overseen by detox support specialists. These specialists are generally consulting physicians who oversee the detox process from start to finish.

Sober Companions and Escorts

Sober companions or escorts make the transition, from the controlled environment treatment facilities offer to home, a little smoother. The primary goal is to avoid relapse, which is common in the weeks that follow treatment completion. Of those who complete rehab, 40 to 60 percent relapse within the first year.[8]

Often known as “sober coaches,” these individuals help prepare an addict’s home by removing potential triggers and any residual substances left behind that could be abused.

Sober companions can be a recovering addict’s around-the-clock support system. This doesn’t mean they are babysitters; rather, they are sources of strength and support until the individual is ready to brave daily life outside of rehab on his or her own again. Some sober escorts have been certified through informal organizations, but this step is not required for employment. The road to become a sober companion is often one of personal experience managing addiction. If you’d make a good sponsor for another addict, you’d likely make a good sober companion, too.

Where to Start

Finding work is a task most people in recovery feel pressured to accomplish. Often, treatment centers can assist you in getting some kind of employment in place upon your exit from rehab, even if it’s just temporary. That being said, it is also advisable that some addicts do not re-enter the workforce immediately upon leaving treatment. The goal is to make sure you aren’t so stressed when you leave rehab that you veer off the path of sobriety.

However, the need to earn a living and be financially responsible is something most people can’t simply forego. As it stands, one in six unemployed people are substance abusers.[9]

Most high-quality treatment centers help recovering addicts attain the right work-life balance. Some residents of rehab may have employment in place but desire a change since they’ve turned their life around. This is common among addicts who have been working with other substance abusers or in an environment where drugs or alcohol are frequent influences, such as bars and restaurants.

Applying for jobs can be tricky if your past is questionable. Individuals who have gone for extended periods without work, lost or quit several jobs after short periods of working, or who have little in the way of good professional references may find that securing employment can be particularly tough. Nevertheless, having a history of substance abuse does not exempt you from an exceptional future.

All it takes is a strong work ethic, a commitment to sobriety, and the right employer who is willing to give you a shot.If you have a rough time getting hired, volunteering or interning as an aide are great ways to open the door into this field, too. Try not to assume that addiction somehow equates to being unable to get a job.


Do You Have to Be an Addict Yourself?

Certainly, every person who seeks work in the field of recovery is not a former substance abuser. Does this type of hands-on experience give someone an upper hand? Perhaps — if they have a good grasp on their sobriety now and gained a lot of insight from recovery. More often than not though, having gone through recovery from an addiction yourself just makes you more apt to relate to others who are going through it.

When you’re applying and interviewing for jobs, it can be a difficult decision to decide whether or not to divulge your prior abuse of drugs or alcohol to a potential employer. You really want and need the job that is at stake, and it may seem like opening up about your addiction could make you look like an unfavorable candidate. If your work history is sketchy, explaining the reasons behind that, and making it clear that you have since sought treatment and are clean and sober, can help your case. Lying to your potential new boss is never wise.

If they ask for an explanation, it is best to give it to them — truthfully. That being said, you are not legally required to offer this information, and former employers aren’t legally allowed to disclose it either.

The National HIRE Network is a great resource for individuals who may have a negative criminal history.[10] Most job applications will ask if you have ever been tried and/or convicted of certain crimes, and many will process background screening reports that employment is dependent upon. The Network links potential employees with hiring agencies and employers who are open to hiring people with criminal pasts.

Not For Everyone

Working in the recovery field isn’t for everyone. If you haven’t been sober very long yourself, you may be thinking spending your days at a rehab facility could only strengthen your resistance to substance abuse, but this isn’t always the case. When you’re working in this field, you aren’t the addict anymore.

You have to be on top of your game all the time and ready to be a strong form of support for other addicts. Sometimes listening to their problems or their accounts of drug and alcohol abuse can be too much for those in recovery.

Most of the positions outlined allow for an addict in recovery to hold them, but employers will usually want to see a lengthy recovery period to evaluate the risk of relapse. Alcoholics are a great example of how a sustained period of abstinence works in your favor. One survey notes 75 percent of people dependent on alcohol relapse within the first year of quitting, but of those who make it to five years, only a mere seven percent return to the bottle.[11]

Regardless, you need to have a reliable support network when you’re job hunting. When you do gain employment and start working, you will have to adhere to work regulations and a schedule that will add responsibility to your already stressful life. It will also add accomplishment and pride. Having others to lean on — such as a sponsor or members of a support group — will make this transition easier.



[1]DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends.” (January 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[2]Substance Abuse Treatment Before the Affordable Care Act: Trends in Social and Economic Characteristics of Facilities and Admissions, 2006 to 2011.” (2014 Oct 30). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[3]High Rates of Job Leaving Among Addiction Counselors.” (2012 April 19). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[4]Strengthening Professional Identity: Challenges of the Addictions Treatment Workforce.” (December 2006). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[5]Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors.” (n.d.). Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[6]Substance Abuse and Mental Health.” (n.d.). HelpGuide. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[7]Substance Abuse Treatment Before the Affordable Care Act: Trends in Social and Economic Characteristics of Facilities and Admissions, 2006 to 2011.” (2014 Oct 30). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[8]’Mindfulness’ Meditation Can Help Reduce Addiction Relapse Rates.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[9] Kurtz, A. (2013 Nov 26). “1 in 6 Unemployed are Substance Abusers.” CNN Money. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[10] Schmitt, J. & Warner, K. (November 2010). “Ex-offenders and the Labor Market.” Center for Economic and Policy Research. Accessed June 12, 2015.

[11] Voss, J.P. (n.d.). “Relapse After Long-Term Sobriety.” American Bar Association. Accessed June 12, 2015.