Careers in the Field
The drugs and alcohol field has grown substantially in recent years. While estimates vary, there are generally reckoned to be more than 30,000 people working in specialist drug or alcohol related roles in the UK.
And as the field has grown, so have the opportunities for career development within the sector.
Substance misuse professionals work in a wide variety of roles - including: drug and alcohol testing; assessment; care planning; education; advice, guidance & support; needle exchange; structured counselling and other psychological interventions; and medical treatments.
They work with young people and adults - in criminal justice and health & social care settings - and within both statutory (government) and voluntary & independent sector organisations.
Some of these roles are restricted to particular professional groups - for example only medical professionals may prescribe medication, only counsellors may provide structured counselling services, and only those qualified to do so may work with young people.
Many positions, though, are open to non-professionals too and in many cases do not require a particular set of qualifications or experience. However, previous experience is an advantage, as is a background in health, social care or criminal justice.
And both new entrants to the field, and experienced practitioners, will be expected to undergo on-going training to develop and maintain their knowledge and skills in this area (see the Professional Development section of the FDAP site for more details on the "competence framework" and related issues).
For 'professional profiles' of people working in the field - outlining their roles and how they came to work in this area - see the bottom of this page.
Finding a job
There are two main advertising outlets for jobs vacancies across the UK:
- The online jobs listing in Drink & Drugs News;
- The Wednesday edition of The Guardian newspaper - and their online listing.
Many agencies offer volunteering opportunities. As well as being valuable in its own right, volunteering is a good way of gaining experience in the field.
To find out about opportunities in your area, contact your local services directly - (for an online listing of drug and alcohol services in your area try the Talk to Frank website).
The "composite" profiles (based on information provided by a variety of different practitioners) listed below give some ideas of the range of jobs in the drugs and alcool sector, and of the different backgrounds of many practitioners. For more information on some of the qualifications and training mentioned see the Careers section of this site and the main FDAP site.
Some additional professional profiles of individual practitioners working in the field can be found on the Sussex DAATs jobs site.
Project worker in drugs drop in
I am based in a street agency in Scotland. No two days are ever quite the same. Our clients experience problems with a range of different drugs, including heroin, crack, cannabis and even steroids. Our first priority is to engage clients - providing them with a friendly and warm environment off the streets. But our over-riding purpose is to provide harm reduction advice, on-going support, and encouragement and support in addressing their needs - in relation to their drugs use and other needs, such as housing. We also provide a needle exchange service in the centre - giving injecting drug users clean needles in exchange for used ones. I came to the field as a volunteer, and was lucky enough to be taken on at the same agency. I am currently preparing a portfolio of evidence towards the OU/FDAP Professional Award for Drug & Alcohol Practitioners, so I can get Accredited as a Drug & Alcohol Professional.
Nurse in specialist addictions clinic
I am based in a specialist addictions clinic in the South East which provides prescribing services and a needle exchange facility, as well as general health care, to people with severe drug related problems. My role entails assessing the needs of new clients, making recommendations on their prescribing needs as required, referring on to residential rehabilitation where appropriate (via the local Community Care Team), and supervising the needle exchange service. I am a qualified nurse, have completed the Royal College of GPs Certificate in the Management of Drug Misuse (Part 1) and am Accredited as a Drug & Alcohol Professional with FDAP.
Arrest referral worker
I work as an arrest referral worker in a number of police custody suites in the South West. Drugs are a common issue for offenders and can often be a big factor in their offending. I see anyone who has tested positive for drugs on arrest, and explain the implications of this for them, as well as exploring with them options they might have for addressing their drug using behaviour. I also provide advice and support to other people who have been arrested if they have a drug-related problem which they wish to discuss. I worked as a community safety officer before completing a certificate in drugs awareness. I am now working towards a Level 3 NVQ in Health & Social Care, with options from the DANOS set of units.
Counsellor in residential rehab
I originally trained as a general counsellor and worked in private practice with clients with a range of different presenting problems. I developed an interest in the substance misuse field having worked with a number of clients who were experiencing problems with alcohol or drugs. I now work in a residential rehabilitation centre in Wales which offers abstinence-based treatment to both alcohol and drug using clients. I provide one to one counselling and run groups focusing on helping people to address their substance use and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. Since joining the field I have continued my training - completing a Masters in Addiction Counselling, and becoming Accredited as a Drug & Alcohol Counsellor with FDAP.
Substance misuse liaison worker in housing agency
I work in a service providing housing to the homeless in London. Many of our clients have drug and alcohol problems. I am the substance misuse lead for the service. Where I or one of my colleagues identifies that a client may have issues related to drugs or alcohol, I will go and see them and attempt to engage them on the matter. Where someone is willing to discuss the matter and indicates a desire for possible help, I will advise them on the options available to them and help make an appointment one of the local specialist agencies as required. My background is in housing, but I have completed certificates in drugs awareness and alcohol awareness at a local college - and I am hoping to study for an NVQ in Health and Social Care in due course.
Prison 'CARAT' worker
I am a CARAT worker in prison in the North East. We are the focal point of contact for prisoners with drug problems. CARAT stands for Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare. We assess people’s needs, provide advice, guidance and on-going counselling where appropriate, refer on as required, and make arrangements to try to ensure a person’s on-going needs are addressed after release. I originally trained as a counsellor, but after a spell as a volunteer with NACRO working with offenders with drug and alcohol problems completed a level 3 diploma in working with substance misusers and joined the Prison Service as a CARAT worker three years ago. I have recently become Accredited as a Drug and Alcohol Professional with FDAP.
Alcohol outreach worker
I work as an alcohol outreach worker in the North West. Most of my work is with 'street drinkers', trying to engage the clients, provide them with support, and help to address their needs, including in finding housing or temporary shelter if they want it. I also provide alcohol education in schools, and am part of a team of specialists who accompany police patrols around the city centre pubs and clubs at weekends. My background is in social care - as a social care assistant, and I have a diploma in counselling. This is my first job in the field - and I am currently on 'induction', working closely with a qualified alcohol worker and going to college on a day release basis once a week to study for a certificate in alcohol awareness. On completing my induction I intend to do an NVQ in Health and Social Care.
Young persons drug and alcohol worker
My job involves three different areas of work: providing emotional support to the children of drug and alcohol using parents; working with young drug and alcohol users to help address their substance use, focusing on harm minimisation and helping them to tackle their substance use itself; providing drugs and alcohol awareness education in local schools. I have worked in the past as a teaching assistant, completed courses in alcohol and drugs awareness and done voluntary work in a local housing agency for problem drinkers. I am currently working towards an NVQ in Youth Work and the OU/FDAP award in Assessment and Care Planning for Substance Users.