How to become a drug and alcohol worker

As a drug and alcohol or substance misuse worker, you would help people to tackle their problems with abusing drugs (illegal, prescription and over-the-counter), alcohol or solvents.

The job can be very challenging but also rewarding. You would help clients to access services such as counselling, healthcare and education. Your job could also cover the following areas:

  • outreach work – encouraging people with substance misuse problems to engage with support services
  • counselling and rehabilitation – giving therapeutic support and dealing with the causes of substance misuse
  • prison work (known as arrest referral work) – supporting clients arrested for drug-related offences
  • education and training – supporting clients with reading, writing, maths, IT and job search skills
  • healthcare – working as a specialist nurse in an addiction clinic, where your duties might include prescribing drug treatments and supervising needle exchange programmes
  • advocacy – helping clients to use housing, employment and healthcare services, and speaking up for clients in the justice system
  • prison ‘CARAT’ work – counselling, advising and supporting clients in prisons and remand centres, including support with detox programmes (CARAT stands for Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare).

In some jobs you may cover several of these areas, whilst in larger services you might specialise.

Whatever the main focus of your job, you would also have other tasks such as making risk assessments, designing training and care programmes, and providing ongoing support for clients while they deal with their substance misuse issues.

What qualifications and experience will employers look for?

You could come from a variety of backgrounds such as nursing, criminal justice, social care, youth work or counselling. For example, you may have dealt with drug- or alcohol-dependent patients as a nurse, or worked in the probation service dealing with offenders after their release.

If you have personal experience of addiction or dependency you could also apply for this type of work, as applications are usually welcome from people who have successfully come through treatment.

Volunteering is an excellent way to gain relevant experience, make contacts and eventually find paid work. It not only gives the employer a chance to see your skills and motivation, but also allows you to decide whether this is the career for you. Most drug and alcohol support organisations offer volunteering opportunities and training.

You can find volunteering opportunities by contacting local substance misuse organisations, or visit the or Talktofrank websites, where you can search for organisations by postcode or town.

  • Talktofrank

Employers often ask for between six months and two years’ relevant experience (paid or unpaid), and the ability to work with vulnerable people. For some jobs employers may ask for professional qualifications in social work, nursing or counselling, but this is not always the case.

You will need an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check for most jobs. You may need a driving licence and access to a vehicle for jobs that involve outreach work or travel between project centres.

  • Criminal Records Bureau

For more information about working in this field, see the Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals (FDAP), DrugScope and Alcohol Concern websites.

What further training and development can I do?

Most organisations will offer you on-the-job training whether you are volunteering or in paid employment.

Your training will be based around the skills needed for your particular job. It may include short sessions on a particular aspect of your role, or the chance to gain formal work-based qualifications.

The Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) offers a range of qualifications and accreditation for substance abuse practitioners, counsellors and managers. For more information, see the Qualifications section of the FDAP website.

  • Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals

You could also take one of a number of university courses in subjects such as drug and alcohol counselling or addictive behaviours. These can range from foundation degree to postgraduate level and are available full-time, part-time and through distance learning from several universities around the UK.

Drug charities strongly recommend that you check that any academic training includes work-based placements to gain practical experience.

For more details about training courses and providers, see the Workforce Development section of the website.


Written by admin

Founder and editor of, a mother of two wonderful children, wife and journalist.
  • Jaine1980

    I would love to become a drug and alcohol addiction worker, so this came in very helpful.