Working to Help Drug Addicts

Addiction is a chronic mental disease that affects almost everyone. Given the estimated 23.5 million Americans addicted to alcohol or drugs, few people in the U.S. remain untouched in some way by this disease. Addiction is a problem for families, employers and friends — just about everyone the addict comes in contact with.

As the concept of addiction becomes better understood, more treatment modalities are available, and awareness about addiction has increased in recent decades. Recovery and rehab programs are abundant in every community across the country, which means there are plenty of job opportunities for people who would like to work to help people overcome this devastating disease. If you want to know how to help drug addicts recover, you should know there are plenty of careers that help addicts.

Careers That Help Drug Addicts

To understand how you can get involved in one of several careers that help addicts, you first have to know a little bit about addiction and recovery. Anyone can develop an addiction regardless of their race, socioeconomic status or lifestyle, so treatment methods must accommodate a wide range of demographics. Addiction recovery generally involves detox, behavioral therapy and lifestyle strategies.

The first step, detoxification, removes the drugs so the body can begin healing. Detox must be accomplished under medical supervision. Depending on the substance in question, detox without medical intervention can be dangerous. In some cases, medicinal therapies are available to make the detox process easier.

Sobriety through detox alone will not last very long without therapy. There are many different treatment modalities to address the specific issues of each case, but some type of behavioral therapy is required. Therapy often uncovers underlying mental illnesses that must also be treated for addiction recovery to be successful over the long term. Therapy also deals with some of the root causes of addiction in an attempt to resolve old wounds upon which an addiction might be built.

In addition to therapy treatments that uncover hidden mental and emotional issues, establish root causes for addiction and affect behavioral changes, addiction recovery has a third component: lifestyle strategies. In many ways an addict is learning how to live all over again during the rehabilitation process. He needs to be taught healthy habits, and he has to establish a new network of supporters for his sober lifestyle.

Several careers in the medical field will offer you the chance to directly impact addicts during the recovery process. These professions involve working directly with addicts in the main areas of their recovery and rehabilitation. They provide the backbone of any recovery program.

Detox Specialist

The detox portion of addiction recovery involves ridding the body and brain of drugs. The process itself is basic — stop taking drugs and wait for them to clear the system. Medically, it is much more complicated than that, since drugs affect changes in your brain that alter even how your vital organs operate.

A detox specialist needs to both understand how the filtration systems in your body work and be educated in brain chemistry. Based on an initial examination and interview, they know how best to guide detoxification, if it requires medication and what the potential risks are. Then, the specialist monitors your vital signs during the detoxification process and knows what medical therapies to administer if any intervention is warranted.

A detox specialist might work in a hospital or even an emergency room to handle emergency addiction and overdose cases. They could also work at a rehab clinic, in-patient recovery facility or any number of other types of facilities that commonly deal with the detox portion of addiction recovery.

Psychologist or Psychiatrist

Some addiction recovery therapies are administered by psychologists or psychiatrists. The main difference between these two professionals is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. Anti-psychotic medications are only used in extreme cases of addiction when there is a serious, underlying mental illness. The majority of addiction therapy involves modalities without any medication.

Psychologists and psychiatrists usually manage a staff of counselors or oversee the entire program at a rehab facility. They also see patients, but they are generally reserved for the most intricate cases, since they have more educational preparation than the other counselors on staff. The psychologist might meet with patients periodically to assess their progress and recommend changes to their recovery program.

Psychologists and psychiatrists can work in a variety of clinical settings, from correctional facilities to community hospitals. They also work in addiction recovery facilities and in private practices. A psychologist in private practice who specializes in addiction recovery might run some group counseling sessions in addition to seeing individual patients and finding other ways to offer their specialized services in the community.

Social Worker

Social workers can be certified to administer certain types of behavioral therapy under the supervision of a psychologist or a psychiatrist. They may specialize in working with addiction recovery, conduct group therapy sessions, offer individual counseling and even family therapy. They can be instrumental in educating anyone involved with addiction about what it is, how it develops, and what they can expect during rehabilitation for themselves or their loved ones.

Social workers can work at in-patient rehab facilities as part of a recovery team where they coordinate care with other specialists. They can also practice in a private setting, specializing in addiction recovery issues, as part of an out-patient program. Some social workers do both, getting involved in a transitional program from addicts ready to leave rehab and continue their recovery at home.

These careers involve a large amount of education and formal preparation in medicine and medically related fields. In addition to the appropriate college degrees, they require practical training, internships, residencies and other extended preparation. People in these professions continue to learn from new research and the experience they gain. In some ways they are life-long students.

Other Ways to Help Drug Addicts Recover

While there are primary medical careers that support drug addiction recovery, there are also some very important roles that support those professions from behind the scenes. These professions impact addicts more indirectly, but are just as important to keeping recovery programs running.


The world of addiction recovery needs people who can learn and teach in various capacities. Educators are needed for the preparation programs that educate the medical and para-professionals who will staff in-patient and out-patient recovery programs. These teachers usually have medical and practical experience working with recovering addicts. Their job is to show the upcoming professionals the best practices for satisfying their role in the recovery process.

Educators are also needed in recovery programs to work with patients and their loved ones. People who are involved in addiction recovery — either because they are addicted to a substance or their lives are severely altered by an addict — don’t usually have a lot of information about addiction. They need someone to teach them what addiction is, how it develops and what they can expect during the rehabilitation process.

Prevention programs offer another role for educators in the addiction field. People are needed to develop these programs and deliver them to the public, from school children to adults. Addiction prevention programs, when they are research based, are proven to save money on addiction treatment at a ratio of one to ten: For every dollar spent on prevention, ten dollars are saved in treatment. Prevention programs can have an impact on lowering the overall addiction rate as well.


Ongoing research in the area of addiction has provided many resources to those seeking recovery, but there is still more to learn.

Medical research continues to explain exactly how the brain works with respect to substance infiltration and addiction. New pharmaceuticals are being developed to help overcome addiction, lessen the impact of detox and reduce relapse rates. Medical research is a necessary part of developing more and better treatment modalities for addiction.

The questions surrounding addiction are not all medically based, however. Social science research is being conducted to better define the behaviors that lead to addiction and to develop programs that might help people avoid addiction in the first place. Research is a wide-open field with many possible applications to addiction. Many researchers have a great impact on addiction recovery without ever meeting the people they help.

Administrative Support

All addiction recovery programs need administrative support. While the job skills for these positions are not directly related to addiction, they do require a specific personality type. Often, the receptionist or front office administrator is the first person an addict comes in contact with when entering or inquiring about a facility.

These initial interactions can be unpredictable because they involve people who are scared and feeling vulnerable. Administrative support personnel are essential for connecting with a person during that first interaction and getting them the information or the support they need to follow through on their decision to enter rehab.

Administrative support personnel also handle a lot of the paperwork involved with addiction treatment. Confidential information is included, and all personnel must respect the patients’ privacy by understanding how to protect sensitive information. They may also be responsible for dealing with insurance companies and helping patients find funding for their treatment. This type of support has an effect on what kind of recovery treatment an addict receives. If the sign-up process is too difficult, addicts might give up before they even get started.

You don’t have to be interested in the medical field to start a career that involves helping addicts in recovery. You don’t even have to work directly with them to do work that makes it possible for addicts to get the treatment they need.

Careers You Wouldn’t Think Could Help Addicts in Recovery

A number of other resources help complete a well-rounded recovery program. Anyone in these fields not traditionally associated with addiction recovery could choose to focus on helping addicts by practicing their professions in venues that addicts frequent, such as rehab centers and facilities associated with outpatient recovery programs.


For the most part, addicts do not have healthy lifestyle habits. They tend to become so focused on getting their next high that they stop caring for every other area of their life — a trait that provides evidence of their addiction.

Someone who is willing to put harmful substances in their body for recreational purposes is not usually thinking about the cholesterol in a doughnut. Addicts tend to become impulsive, only solving the problem of the moment. When that problem is hunger, whatever is handy becomes the solution.

Guidance in nutrition and diet is often needed in an addiction recovery program. Through in-patient programs, a nutritionist can develop menus for a facility and ensure the food being served meets the nutritional needs of the clients. A nutritionist might also teach nutrition classes to recovering addicts trying to increase their ability to care for themselves and develop healthy habits.

A nutritionist practicing in a private setting might give one-on-one nutritional counsel to recovering addicts. With a little extra training, a nutritionist could become an expert in the specific nutritional needs of people recovering from addiction to certain substances. These services are very helpful in supporting long-term addiction recovery and helping to avoid relapse.

Yoga Instructor

Learning to reduce stress is an important step in addiction recovery, as stress is a major indicator of potential relapse. Many recovery programs now include special sessions on stress reduction strategies and practice. Yoga and other meditative exercises support addiction recovery by quieting the mind, reducing stress.

Many addicts have trouble being still for even short periods of time and have little ability to focus. Understanding what creates these behaviors and how to gently lead recovering addicts to the calmness found in yoga could be a specialty for a yoga instructor.

Yoga instructors can work in addiction recovery programs as part of this stress-reducing component. Yoga is a good form of exercise for recovering addicts and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their level of physical ability. Yoga studios are in almost every community, making it easy for recovering addicts to continue a guided yoga or meditation practice long-term.

Yoga instructors who prefer to work in their own studio can develop a specialty in addiction recovery and market their classes exclusively for this purpose. A number of out-patient recovery programs include yoga at a private studio.

Personal Trainer

Self-care is a topic in addiction recovery that helps reduce the relapse rate. As addicts learn — or re-learn — how to take care of themselves, be kind and not judgmental, and nourish their bodies for optimum performance, exercise becomes part of their daily routine. Healthy habits like exercise keep recovering addicts focused on a positive future.

Depending on their particular situation, addicts begin recovery with some physical limitations. They need to be re-introduced to physical exertion and work up to a regular routine. A personal trainer can help develop training routines to fit an individual’s needs, either in a program or on his own.

Personal trainers who understand the effects of addiction can be an integral part of recovery. They can also help people in recovery avoid injuries that might set them back physically and emotionally at a vulnerable time in their lives.

You might not think that someone would become a nutritionist, yoga instructor or personal trainer to help addicts recover, but these professions certainly have a place in rehabilitation programs. With the right knowledge about addiction, these professionals can dedicate their practice to aiding addiction recovery.

How to Volunteer to Help Drug Addicts Recover

If you are interested in helping addicts recover but are not ready to change career paths, many volunteer opportunities are available. Recovering from any mental illness ultimately depends on the support of other people. Caring individuals are always needed to augment addiction recovery programs.

Rehabilitation programs often use all of their available funding for essential services to clients, leaving some needs unmet except through volunteer efforts. The beautification of a facility, either by landscaping, painting or another type of decorating, greatly impacts the people who use the facility. Even aside from other considerations, a clean and pleasant appearance on the outside of the building can evoke a positive feeling for those who attend.

Building or maintaining a small garden where people in recovery can go to meditate would be helpful. Being outdoors surrounded by nature is one way that recovering addicts can reset their clocks, get back in touch with themselves, and reduce stress.

Adding beauty to the inside of a facility where addicts receive treatment is another way to help through volunteering. Painting a mural or decorating a sitting room are two ways to accomplish this. Beauty and serenity are important themes in recovery. With the permission of the facility operator, you may be able to use your artistic skills to help drug addicts recover.

If you are artistic, you might consider running an art workshop. Art is a way for people to relax and express themselves. You don’t have to be an art therapist to deliver a workshop focused on art that has some therapeutic value to people in recovery.

Music is another art form that can be therapeutic, especially to drug addicts in recovery. Volunteering to perform at a rehab facility or simply playing the piano in the vestibule for the benefit of anyone walking by would have an impact. Music is soothing, meditative and can stir emotions that are locked deep inside. Recovery is all about digging into the depths and dealing with those buried emotions.

Many people think of volunteering at holiday time, and there are plenty of opportunities. The holidays can be a time that is very dark for anyone recovering from a mental illness. Holiday memories make many people feel alone, isolated and sad. Volunteering to decorate, run a workshop for music or art, or help put on a special meal around the holidays would likely be welcomed at any facility.

The best way to find these volunteer opportunities is to contact a recovery facility near you. Most have volunteer needs and might also direct you to community organizations that support recovery where you can help.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about careers that support drug addiction recovery, contact 12 Keys. Based on your interests and level of expertise, we can lead you in the right direction to begin helping addicted people recover.

The Addiction Blog