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A big part of drug addiction recovery is being able to get back to a normal semblance of life and sustain it, and a big part of that is having a source of income. But many people with substance use disorder may have lost their jobs or had nothing to direct their energy, to begin with.

The importance of employment in long-term sobriety has become a big topic in recent years. More and more mental health professionals are becoming privy to how crucial it is to have a career to move on with one’s life with the possibility of progress and advancement to sustain long-term sobriety. By having prospects on the horizon, there’s less reason to get back into being addicted to drugs.

Therefore, having a vocational development program can be an excellent complement to substance use disorder treatment to give drug abusers seeking treatment something more to strive for, especially those from low-income groups. Look at vocational development and what it does for substance use disorder treatment.

What is Vocational Development?

Vocational development is a post-treatment program that gives patients something to help them move on with their lives after getting off drugs or alcohol. By itself, it’s not a treatment for substance use disorder. After all, they can’t learn new skills for employment when addictive substances cloud their faculties.

What vocational developments are meant to do is to help patients maintain long-term sobriety by being able to focus their energies on getting jobs after treatment to sustain themselves with both income and purpose. Employment is an essential factor in rehabilitating someone with a substance use disorder.

There’s research literature for the last 20 years with data on how employment prospects can affect the sustainability of sobriety and life outcome after treatment. It has been found that vocational development programs have shown some success in rehabilitating drug addicts, and it’s being improved over time based on existing knowledge, current practice, and their results.

The Need for Vocational Development

Vocational development programs exist due to work being a basic human need that can potentially take the place of addictive substances. Working gives an individual something to wake up in the morning for and a future to pursue, thus giving them much less reason to get into drugs and alcohol.

It’s essential to understand the meaning that work gives to an individual, how it gives substance to their values, beliefs, and cultural identity, and how they deal with their social realities and challenges. Work that provides a livable wage consistently fuels them for their fire throughout their active lives.

Defining work can be challenging. It’s a purposeful activity that yields something of economic value. Whether it produces goods or services or helps others, it’s work. It’s better if it provides income to the worker.

However, many people in the country are not in the workforce as they don’t hold regular jobs, especially those with substance use disorders. Since employment is not usually a focus or a primary goal in treating substance use disorder, it hasn’t been used as a motivation for drug addicts and alcoholics to get off their habit to get their lives back on track.

Because substance use disorder is a common barrier to employment, vocational services must be incorporated into substance use treatment programs. However, recent reforms in public welfare and other benefit programs stress the importance of work and self-sufficiency more significantly. But even when employment is made a stated goal of substance use disorder treatment, they lack the adequate vocational development services that help achieve that goal.

To stay true to the definition of rehabilitation, patients should be able to get back on their feet in every sense of the word, including providing for themselves and their loved ones. Vocational development programs should be able to help them learn new skills that they can use after their addiction treatment to find and maintain employment within a brief timeframe. This is incredibly challenging, but it’s possible.

Employment as a Goal for Drug Recovery

Substance use disorder and unemployment have been intertwined throughout history, as it’s common for addicts to either stay jobless or be terminated from their jobs during their addiction. According to the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 13.8% of unemployed adults over 18 were current addicts, compared to only 6.5% of fully employed adults.

Take note that these are really old figures, but it just goes to show the scale of the problem. The unemployment rate among people with substance use disorder is much greater than that of the general population, even if they’re at roughly the same level of educational attainment.

On the other hand, related studies found that employment during addiction may lead to longer retention in treatment and a greater likelihood of successful results. It’s not ideal, but it’s way better than being unemployed. If a patient’s circumstances are still acceptable, there’s a much better chance of treating the addiction.

Another thing about patients being employed is that it lets them keep being parental role models to their children. They can provide for them and give them the image of an ideal parent, despite their substance use disorder. Many working parents have an addiction and still, somehow, function. It’s common in the opioid crisis, wherein addictive substances are prescription drugs.

Therefore, it’s good to have employment as a goal for drug recovery, no matter how you slice it. That makes room for vocational development as a significant part of substance use disorder treatment, especially for unemployed patients.

Challenges in Vocational Development

Substance use disorder patients who are unemployed face many obstacles and difficulties in obtaining and keeping jobs due to their addiction and life situation. Meanwhile, employed patients may need assistance in finding satisfying work or identifying and resolving workplace stress exacerbating their ongoing substance use disorder or triggering relapse.

Some obstacles can also come from society, scarcity of jobs, and prejudice directed at them due to substance use disorder. Those obstacles tend to reside in themselves, as well as their interpersonal relationships and coexisting medical and psychological conditions. Most employers avoid employing people with a history of drug or alcohol addiction, so it’s hard for many former addicts to recover and move on.

While comprehensive and individualized substance use disorder treatment can help overcome those obstacles, that alone isn’t enough to sustain them throughout their journey back to sobriety. Vocational development programs help patients obtain marketable skills, learn interviewing skills, get employed, and acquire attitudes and behaviors that will allow them to stay engaged.

Competence, punctuality, regular attendance, appropriate dress, responsiveness to supervision, and properly receiving feedback are some of the “soft skills” that go along with “hard” job skills taught in vocational development programs. Being addicted to substances impedes the patient from learning them or even being able to practice what they already know due to how drugs and alcohol can debilitate the body and mind.

To begin with, many soft skills are necessary to get through the treatment. Attending therapy sessions regularly, reporting to therapists for regular checks, staying disciplined to remain on course with the treatment, and being honest about one’s current status are necessary to respond well to the addiction treatment. If the patient can’t adhere to these requirements, they won’t be able to succeed in attaining sobriety, much less get a job.


Employment is one of society’s most important facets as it satisfies an individual’s basic needs, thus fulfilling the need for self-sufficiency and independence. Being less dependent on others is an effective way to eliminate dependence on other things, including drugs and alcohol.

Being employed provides self-esteem as a source of income and a way to establish one’s identity and relationships with others. Work can give people a reason to live, so it’s good to give people recovering from substance use disorder the tools and skills necessary to gain employment and take care of themselves.

We here at California Prime Recovery Center will help you with your treatment needs and guide you through finding the right vocation development program for your needs. We are focused on ensuring everyone who enters through our doors gets out with a new lease on life.

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