People find work in the drugs sector through a variety of routes and for a range of different reasons.
DDN is partnering with Addiction Professionals to explore the pathways into the field, and how to progress once you’re there.
Addiction Professionals is a voluntary registration body and network for the addictions sector, with a diverse membership of practitioners working in the addictions sector. Addiction Professionals works to raise and uphold high standards and quality in the workforce.
DDN is the free magazine for the substance misuse sector. The publication works to connect people working across the sector including specialist treatment providers and those working in the wider health, social care and criminal justice settings.
Working to support people with drug and alcohol and other addiction problems and helping them make a meaningful life changes can be extremely rewarding.
As well as providing treatment and medical support there are wide range of roles supporting people throughout their recovery journey into secure housing and employment.
Each issue of DDN we cover a specialism within the field. In October and November our careers series turned the spotlight on nursing.
Many people choose to qualify as a nurse so they can pursue a career in addictions. There are also nurses who become interested in specialising in addictions as a result of coming into contact with people with drug or alcohol issues in their working lives.
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:
1Making 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.
2Working 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.
4Working 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.
5Inter-agency collaboration Working in addictions often involves collaboration with a range of different professionals, leading to increased understanding and professional growth.
6Working 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.
7Working 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.
8Professionals 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.
9New funding for the drug sector, and an increasing emphasis on gamblingDame 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 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.
Here are some examples of key roles in the sector with information on what qualifications you need and personal accounts from people in position.
Many people begin their role in addiction services by volunteering, and volunteering opportunities are often available in agencies such as local peer support or treatment services. Services will often advertise locally or on their websites and an interview is usually part of the process. Volunteering activities can be wide-ranging, from support groups and recreational activities to helping local treatment agencies to deliver their services. Volunteering can be hugely rewarding and a great way to get experience, and can help people to decide whether they want to go on to work in the field, and in what role. For many people their experience in mutual aid groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery motivates them to go on to volunteer in addiction services.
Many services require volunteers to complete in-house training but will not require additional qualifications, although some may ask for training qualifications for specific roles such as volunteer counsellors.
Some organisations support volunteers by providing training in specific areas of interest, allowing them to specialise – for example in peer support or harm reduction services. Many volunteers go on to apply for work in the sector or a vocational course that supports them to work in the field, for example nursing or social work.
This role exists across many treatment settings in the UK, although the names of the role can vary. The keyworker acts as the main point of contact for a client, often in a multidisciplinary team. Their focus is on building a good relationship with the client, supporting person-centred care planning, and liaising with other professionals both internal and external to their team – including medical, housing, social services and educational – to support individuals to meet their goals.
Currently there are no nationally recognised training requirements for this role. However some services may ask for certain levels of educational achievement, or ask that people work towards this level once they start the role. Level 3 vocational courses such as diplomas in adult health/social care are commonly asked for in community settings and the care certificate is often required in residential settings, but other health and social care educational courses may be accepted and/ or asked for. Some recovery/keyworkers will already have professional qualifications, such as in nursing, social work, psychology, counselling, youth work or probation, although this is not usually a requirement for the role.
There is currently no recognised accreditation for recovery/support workers. Addiction Professionals provides accreditation aimed at recovery workers in the drug and alcohol sector and there is also accreditation, developed with Adfam, which is aimed at family workers. Other further development routes include progression to managerial qualifications or vocational degrees, and some employers may support workers through these qualifications. Some recovery/keyworkers choose to study addictions at a Masters level and/or are supported in work to develop specialisms, for example in hepatitis C.
Some people choose to develop their skills in counselling in order to pursue a career in addictions. There are also counsellors who become interested in specialising in addictions as a result of coming into contact with people with addictions in their work role.
Counselling is an unregulated profession in the UK and practitioners are not required to have a qualification in order to advertise counselling services, although the UK government encourages voluntary registration for counsellors/therapists/psychotherapists. There are a number of voluntary registers in the UK, including Addiction Professionals, that practitioners can register with, and most voluntary registers require counsellors/ psychotherapists to have completed a degree level course with specified hours of supervised practice and learning.
Addiction Professionals is the only regulatory body that provides accreditation for addictions counsellors. Some practitioners choose to study addictions at a Masters level and/or to specialise in areas of interest, for example EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).
Studying as a psychologist is another route to pursuing a career in addictions, while there are also psychologists who become interested in specialising in addictions as a result of coming into contact with people with drug or alcohol issues in their working lives. In order to practice as a psychologist in the UK you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a practitioner psychologist.
Practitioner psychologists must complete a recognised degree and meet the HCPC standards in order to practice.
There is currently no formal accreditation for psychologists working in addictions. Some psychologists choose to study at Masters level and/or are supported at work to specialise in an area of special interest.
Some people choose to qualify as a nurse in order to pursue a career in addictions, and there are also nurses who become interested in specialising in addictions as a result of coming into contact with people with addictions in their working lives. In order to practice as a nurse in the UK you must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)
Nurses are required to have a nursing degree or equivalent in order to register with the NMC. There is no externally recognised addictions accreditation.
Some nurses study to become nurse independent/supplementary prescribers. Some practitioners choose to study addictions at a Masters level and/or are supported at work to specialise in an area of special interest.
Pharmacists in the UK must register with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
Pharmacists can undertake a specialisation in substance misuse and alcohol dependency. There is also additional training in as non-medical prescribers meeting the GPhC competency framework supported by a practice based portfolio.
Some pharmacists study to become independent/supplementary prescribers, while some practitioners choose to study addictions at a Masters level and/or are supported at work to specialise in an area of special interest.
Read articles in DDN Magazine focusing on careers, training, qualifications, and workforce development.
People find work in the drugs sector through a variety of routes and for a range of different reasons. DDN is partnering with Addiction Professionals to explore the pathways into the field, and how to progress once you’re there. Read more
In autumn our careers series turns the spotlight on nursing. Many people choose to qualify as a nurse so they can pursue a career in addictions. There are also nurses who become interested in specialising in addictions as a result of coming into contact with people with drug or alcohol issues in their working lives.