How to start a career in the treatment of addiction

13th July 2020

Addiction and prolonged substance abuse are serious issues which have the potential to damage the lives of sufferers, as well as the lives of their loved ones. In addition to the abuse of substances such as alcohol and other drugs, there are a number of other types of addiction – all of which can be disruptive to the day-to-day functioning of those who endure them, and which may need to be treated by professionals.

People of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds can experience addiction. The substances abused can range from legal drugs such as alcohol and prescription medication, to illegal drugs such as opioids and hallucinogens. In some cases these addictions can even be life-threatening; in Australia alone, nearly 6000 people die from diseases related to alcohol abuse every year.

As such, becoming a professional in the treatment of addiction is a fulfilling and worthwhile career choice which will potentially allow you to help people through some of the most difficult periods of their lives. You will be able to identify the harmful effects that addiction has on people, and learn to take positive and proactive steps to help guide them through their issues.


Why study the treatment of addiction?

If you are a strong communicator with an empathetic mindset, this may be the perfect career choice for you. By studying the treatment of addiction, you will eventually have a tangible effect on the lives of the people you work with, as well as the wider community. Addiction is sometimes thought of as a solitary disease, but it often has ripple effects which impact the lives of the people around the individual who suffers from it.

In many cases, addiction does not simply manifest out of nowhere; it is often the result of trauma and ongoing stress. Learning about addiction will therefore help you to understand trauma and the other causes of addiction, and enable you to mitigate their negative effects through counselling, intervention, and helping people to access the medical and psychological treatment they need.

An interest in human biology and psychology would also be useful when working within this field, as addiction is often both a physical and mental malady. It can therefore be treated by addressing physiological symptoms, as well as psychological ones, and understanding the ways in which these two areas intersect and impact upon each other.

Every patient’s needs are different, and studying the treatment of addiction will allow you to meet people from many different contexts, with vastly different symptoms, and learn how to treat them with respect and sympathy. You will benefit from a widening of your own personal perspective, whilst also helping people to overcome their difficulties.


Study and Career Pathways

There are two major study pathways that may lead to a career in the treatment of addiction: studying substance abuse in particular, or a more general course within an area such as social work.

Becoming a social worker may involve specialising in community services and helping people to navigate a range of difficulties including issues with income, mental health, injustice, and changing life circumstances. Many people – particularly those within underprivileged communities – do not have access to (or the understanding of how to access) resources and services which may aid them in dealing with these problems. Studying social work will provide you with the skills necessary to help these people live happier and healthier lives.

If you’re more interested in the specific treatment of addiction, you may prefer to engage in a more targeted study pathway such as a substance abuse counsellor course or a rehabilitation counsellor course. Both of these study options focus largely on the treatment of people who suffer from addictions to alcohol and other drugs, including rehabilitation and intervention strategies. Some people who work within this field specialise in addictions to a particular type of drug, or people with addictions that derive from particular circumstances (such as young people, refugees or veterans who may be experiencing post-traumatic stress).

Most of these courses allow for some flexibility in how they are completed. Many can be studied online or on campus, and have options for both full-time and part-time study, making this pathway accessible to most people. These courses generally run for 6 to 12 months (full-time) and often include some practical as well as theoretical training.

Choosing to pursue a career in the treatment of addiction provides you with opportunities to work both within the private and government sectors, and allows for both specialisation or gaining general experience in many areas. This is an industry with a vast array of study pathways that all lead to rewarding and engaging careers.

Written by Elisa Thompson
Elisa Thompson
Elisa is a freelance writer and editor. She has a strong background in education, social and cultural studies, and has experience in research and academic writing.

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