More than 100,000 individuals who work as substance abuse counselors have some kind of personal connection to the problem which makes them perfect for the position. While most of them have family or friends who were addicts, 50 percent of the counselors, administrators, social workers, therapists, and others who help addicts achieve sobriety are recovering addicts themselves.
While personal connection to the client means that these professionals are dedicated and passionate, there is also a downside. It’s no secret that alcoholics and addicts even those who enjoyed sobriety for some time, relapse.
Most substance abuse programs as well as licensing boards require applicants to have at least two-year significant free time. When they relapse, they lose their license because they violate the condition of their licensure.
What happens if a substance abuse counselor relapse?
Some employers may be reticent about rehiring those who have relapsed; their biggest concern is the safety of the client, particularly those who are in an early stage of recovery. The problem lies in the fact that when people relapse, they may begin to cross boundaries, and it is doubtful those counselors who are in the throes of their own addiction can keep the patient’s best interest foremost in their priorities.
Chuck Rice, an attorney and instructor at a nationally recognized graduate school of addiction studies, said that “The counselor would just be gone.” While relapse of substance abuse professional may be dangerous to patients, the biggest threat is actually to the person who relapses. Many counselors and clinicians are difficult to work with because they are in serious denial.
Then again, the greatest challenge for a counselor who relapse is financial, so they hide their addiction for fear of losing their license and their job so their use escalates. By the time co-workers and friends recognize what’s going on, the person has already experienced a full-blown crisis.
Reasons behind the relapse and fall out
Many counselors and clinicians complain that it is easy for them to blur the lines between job demands and personal recovery. They get used to being the one with the experience, the credibility, and the answer, so it is not difficult to confuse their work when they attend meetings for their own recovery. Burn out becomes a major issue.
The challenges facing an individual who decides to make a career in substance abuse is that it is difficult for counselors to attend 12 steps meetings because they may ultimately find themselves sitting beside a past or current client. What would they say to a client in the room when they become a member of a recovery group?
Experts strongly recommend that these substance abuse counselors should have a support program outside the job. The irony of it all is that no safety nets or support exist for professionals who work in the field. Most professional and healthcare organizations have monitoring system to help members deal with addiction issues. Monitoring is needed for substance abuse professional. NAADAC was underused because people don’t want to be identified for fear of losing their job. However, without a formal system, NSAADAC can only deal with the relapse informally. A national system agreeable to the addiction world is needed to assist people in recovery.
California failed to screen substance abuse counselors
The state of California failed to meet such a requirement. The California State Office of Oversight and Outcomes ordered an investigation for 36,000 substance abuse counselors. The State Senate investigative arm announced Monday that it found almost two dozen substance abuse counselors presently working in California who are registered sex offenders. The Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs do not keep track of the counselors’ criminal history or arrest records. The report says that these counselors are still dangerous even after their time and rehab have been completed.
California and Pennsylvania are among the nation’s 15 most populous states and are the only two states that do not have a system to weed out criminal records of applicants. Other states require counselors to report their background and check their fingerprints against criminal records.
A bill by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord requiring background checks and licensing died in the Legislature in 2010. The California State Office of Oversight and Outcomes recommended that state lawmakers try again.
If a national monitoring system is not created, these professionals who work to help others keep a clean life will go without the support system they need. Professionals must help make the system work as the recovery field continues to grow to ensure that the foot soldiers in our battle against substance abuse will remain straight and narrow.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas