A wide range of professions work in the addictions field including recovery/ key workers, therapists, psychologists, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and social workers. Volunteers and mutual aid organisations such as AA and SMART Recovery also play a significant role in the sector.

Here are some of the many reasons why people get involved:

  1. Making a difference Working with people experiencing addiction issues can be highly rewarding – supporting them to make significant positive changes in their lives is extremely fulfilling. Addiction treatment has a good evidence base with guidance from the Department of Health and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for drug misuse and alcohol misuse. NICE guidance on harmful gambling is also in development.

  2. Working in a sector shaped by lived experience The addictions sector excels in employing people with lived experience, whether of their own addiction or that of family and friends. While many people working in the field do not have lived experience of addictions, the opportunity to work in a sector shaped by people with lived experience can be very rewarding in itself.

  3. Working with a range of issues. Addictions are complex and frequently co-exist with a wide range of other issues including mental health problems, physical health problems and issues with offending, housing, relationships and employment. People employed in the addictions field have the opportunity to work with and understand a broad scope of issues across their careers.

  4. Working in a variety of roles Work in addictions can cover a range of roles including support to explore issues that have led to addictions, support to find routes out of addictions – including psychosocial interventions – practical support with housing and employment, pharmacological interventions, and support for family members and loved ones. You can work in areas that include physical and mental health, employment, housing, education, building links with communities, improving relationships and self-esteem, and navigating the criminal justice system. Often you will be working with a wide range of issues at the same time, which provides a varied and stimulating work experience that can last throughout your entire career.

  5. Inter-agency collaboration Working in addictions often involves collaboration with a range of different professionals, leading to increased understanding and professional growth. 

  6. Working in a range of settings There are a range of work settings in the addictions sector including community treatment, criminal justice-based interventions, inpatient and hospital-based services, and residential rehabilitation. Treatment can be funded by local government and health services, charities, and the private sector. This provides a rich variety of experience, and many practitioners gain knowledge and skills moving between settings during their careers. 

  7. Working to challenge stigma People with addictions experience stigma, which can sometimes be as damaging as the addiction itself. You can support people to deal with the effects of stigma, and be involved in challenging and changing society’s often negative views of people with addictions.

  8. Professionals are needed  Addictions cause significant problems in society and there is firm evidence that treatment works. The addictions sector and wider society needs professionals who can make significant positive changes to the lives of individuals, their families and communities.

  9. New funding for the drug sector, and an increasing emphasis on gambling Dame Carol Black’s Independent review of drugs and the subsequent government drug strategy which launched in December 2021 came with significant investment – £530m for treatment and harm reduction, £68m for housing support, £21m support for employment and £129m for continuity of care for those leaving the criminal justice system – all to be released strategically over the course of three years. The review and strategy focus on the need for increasing the whole workforce, including the medical workforce, and the need for training and career progression. While the review focuses on drugs, most statutory services work with both alcohol and drug problems. Gambling harm and treatment is also gaining recognition with new NHS clinics opening and a White Paper due to be published in 2022.

Where to start?

At Addiction Professionals we are often approached by people wanting to start or enhance their career in addictions but unsure which steps to take next. This is not surprising as there are so many career paths involved, but there are a number of ways for people to get involved in addictions work or develop their career within the field.

A word about DBS checks 

Employers in the sector will usually require enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, but a criminal record will not necessarily prevent you from volunteering and/or working in this area. Most employers will look at the nature of an offence and how long ago it occurred before making a decision. For those running their own businesses, while a DBS is not required in some roles (for example private counselling) it is good practice to make this available to clients on request.

Career progression

Career progression is about moving forward in your work role and can take many forms – a promotion, being given more responsibility within the role you already have, moving to a different part of the sector, taking on new challenges, or increasing your skillset through training and development opportunities. The processes underpinning career progression can include using supervision/appraisals/mentoring at work, making career plans, keeping up-to-date with developments in the field by reading DDN (the free magazine for the sector) and subscribing to DS Daily (newsfeed) and networking with others in the sector and associated fields.