Addiction Treatment Professionals are in High Demand

This article was originally printed in LA Weekly.

According to a 2014 report by Marketdata, there are now more than 14,000 addiction treatment facilities in the U.S. and the recovery “industry” is worth $35 billion annually (and growing).

Two and a half million individuals received treatment for addiction in America last year – not just to drugs or alcohol, but also sex addiction, Internet addiction, nicotine addiction and problem gambling. Additionally, some addiction treatment facilities are diversifying into helping people with eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates 27-percent growth in demand for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors between 2010 and 2020, a prediction driven both by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which mandates that insurance providers cover treatment for mental health issues, and an increase in court-ordered addiction treatment.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s addiction treatment capitals, with Recovery.org listing 119 drug and alcohol addiction recovery centers in the city.

“Los Angeles offers some the best care for treatment addiction in the world and also has the greatest recovery community in the nation,” said Manny Rodriguez, Founder and Executive Director of La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center.

These statistics indicate a wealth of jobs and careers related to addiction treatment, both nationally and locally. But just what types of professionals are needed and how does an individual become qualified to work in this uniquely challenging and rewarding environment?

As well as staffing similar to that of many other businesses (such as accountants, attorneys, human resources professionals etc.), addiction treatment facilities require trained specialists who interact directly with their clients daily.

“A facility such as La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center [requires] psychiatrists and internal medicine doctors certified in addiction medicine, licensed therapists (LMFT [Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist] and LCSW [Licensed Clinical Social Worker]), certified addiction counselors and recovery technicians,” said Rodriguez.

Founded in 2005, La Fuente became a licensed program in 2011, filling a void in high-quality affordable treatment in Hollywood.

“La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center is in the forefront working with LGBT individuals struggling with addiction and has become one of the nation’s leading treatment programs with vast experience applying effective treatment interventions specific to the issues of LGBT individuals,” said Rodriguez. “However, La Fuente welcomes anyone and everyone who wants to change their life.”

People can break into an addiction treatment career at multiple levels, some of which require less than an associate degree, while others will require a master’s degree.

Education and training for addiction careers is plentiful in California. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network (ATTC) currently lists 50 schools in the state that offer at least one addiction study program. In Los Angeles County alone these include Cal State Dominguez Hills (Alcohol and Drug Counseling Certificate), Glendale Community College (Specialist in Alcohol and Drug Studies Certificate), Loyola Marymount University (Addiction Counseling Certificate) and UCLA Extension (Alcohol/Drug Abuse Studies Certificate and Alcohol/Drug Counseling Certificate).

“Requirements for academic training vary, depending on the occupational specialty and state licensure/certification requirements,” according to Addictioncareers.org. “At the undergraduate level, students typically receive education in the professional techniques of counseling, along with a disciplined background in the environmental and psychological causes and effects of alcohol and other drug dependence and behavioral addictions.”

While a bachelor’s degree often meets the qualifications for a counseling aide, rehabilitation aide or social services worker, a graduate-level degree in clinical psychology, counseling or social work with an addiction concentration is usually a prerequisite to licensure.

“Alcohol and drug counseling is certified by the State of California and education/training is offered at colleges and universities such as UCLA and LACC,” said Rodriguez. “California has four main levels of certification for drug and alcohol counseling as well as two levels that are trainee level and not required for actual certification and/or licensure.”

In California, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors are required to complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience after earning their degree, which must include at least 1,750 hours of direct counseling. Once licensed, they are required to complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years in order to renew their license.

Drug and alcohol counselors work in a diverse range of settings – not just treatment and rehabilitation centers but also halfway houses and correctional facilities (many offenders are lately receiving treatment-oriented sentences). Such counselors essentially help recovering individuals with life skills and accountability. They are often self-employed, working in private or group practices.

“Recovery coaches and counselors, while extremely valuable, are not currently certified/regulated by the state [of California] and do not carry the same responsibilities of drug and alcohol counselors,” said Rodriguez.

In addition to formal education and, where required, state licensing, working in addiction treatment often requires certain personality traits.

“People with a really good sense of balance in all areas of their lives,” said Rodriquez. “The burn-out rate is very high in drug treatment.”

As well as being rewarded with stimulating careers, addiction treatment professionals can provide hope to both their clients and their client’s families – and even save lives.

“One of the greatest challenges working in a treatment facility is when people resist the needed treatment,” said Rodriguez. “However, this challenge many times becomes the greatest gift, especially when the patient turns a corner in treatment and starts to respond, allowing for the healing necessary to save their life.

“Addiction … is a fatal disease if not treated. Knowing that I can be a part of helping to change the course of someone’s life is a pretty awesome reason to do this work.”

Some recovering addicts transition into working in the treatment field. For these individuals, working in addiction treatment is often much more than just a career move.

“Individuals struggling with addiction prior to entering treatment have spent a lot of their time taking from everyone to feed their habit and unable to hold down a job or finish school,” said Rodriguez. “When they find themselves newly sober, the idea of giving back and helping others … seems like a natural next step.

“This is always great because newly recovering people want to feel useful and productive. I always encourage new people to get a simple job first that can provide routine/accountability and to wait at least two-years before embarking on a career in addiction treatment.”

Recovering individuals can bring a valuable sense of empathy and relatability to addiction therapy and counseling roles.

“Some clients/patients, not all, in treatment can hit a wall if they know the therapist or counselor is not in recovery,” said Rodriguez. “A therapist and or counselor in recovery can form an ‘I’ve been there too’ bond and relationship. This helps to form the alliance and trust needed in the beginning stages.

“However, there are many skilled therapists and counselors not in recovery who can work pass the initial resistance of some clients and do amazing work.”

Demand for passionate and dedicated addiction professionals appears set to swell for years to come.

“The Affordable Care Act has made insurance more affordable and accessible. The expectation is that greater access to treatment will be more available locally and nationally,” said Rodriquez. “Like any other industry, it’s about supply and demand. The demand has always been there, now we have a supply as well.”