Jobs Within the Substance Misuse Field

This article will be of interest to anyone who is considering taking up a role within the substance misuse field. We will give a comprehensive overview of the different types of jobs available and will include information regarding their respective salaries, entry routes and pros and cons.

Substance misuse workers help people who are battling drug and alcohol addiction and come from a diverse set of backgrounds. Usually jobs in which require caring for the community such as nursing, social care, the psychological field or the criminal justice system are all considered to be good precursors to working within the substance misuse field.

One of the best ways to gain entry into the profession is to gain experience. It might be difficult to do this in paid work, so one route might be to do some voluntary work for a while. Many organisations offer roles to help you get practical experience of the job. Other experience that is valuable is what the industry calls ‘experts by experience.’ This refers to those people who successfully battled drink and drug addiction successfully and who can offer advice of how they themselves got sober.

The sector’s professional body, the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) offer a range of training courses, including online, to develop the ability of workers and managers with respect to the Drug and Alcohol National Occupational Standards (DANOS).

The drug and alcohol sector has grown substantially in recent years. Estimates have the Substance Abuse workforce at around 30,000 people in the UK alone.

What does a Drug and Alcohol Worker do exactly?

Substance misuse workers help people recover from all prescription and non prescription drugs and alcohol.  The role involves helping with healthcare, education and counseling. The types of jobs within the industry vary according to professional development, qualification and personal preferences.

There are several aspects that are common within all substance misuse roles:

- Healthcare- This involves working as a specialist nurse in an addiction clinic helping to prescribe medication and oversee detox programmes.

- Drop in centre work- Discussing courses of action with clients

- CARAT work in the prison system- Counseling, assessment, referral, advice and through care.

- Youth work- helping youngsters gain employment and socialization.

- Advocacy- helping clients with healthcare, housing and employment.

- Education and training- helping clients with basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as CV creation and building.

- Counselling and rehabilitation.- Dealing with the root causes of substance abuse.

- Outreach work- visiting the most vulnerable addicts and helping them with basic needs such as temporary accommodation and emergency funding.

- Risk assessments

- Ongoing support

- Design training and care programmes.

The salary range for drug and alcohol workers ranges from £17,000 to £40,000 per annum.


There are no set entry requirements. Nevertheless, experience in the field of social care would be helpful, for example, youth work, criminal justice etc.

Personal experience battling addiction can be valuable in helping others overcome theirs.

You will need to get Disclosure and Barring Service clearance for undertaking this type of work. This means you have no criminal record and that you are not a threat to the community.

If you cannot get paid experience, gain some by volunteering to start with.

Skills Needed:

- Empathy

- An understanding of substance abuse

- Superb communication skills

- Ability to build and maintain rapport

Starter: £17,000 to £19,000

Experienced: £21,000 to £25,000

Highly Experienced: £26,000 to £40,000

Some contracts

be short-term and pay an hourly rate ranging from £14 to £17.

Employment officers, and outreach and drop-in centre workers earn between £20,000 and £25,000 a year.
Counsellors and specialist nursing staff can earn between £23,000 and £28,000.
Team leaders and local service managers can earn up to £35,000 a year.
Volunteers may receive expenses such as travel costs.

(Figures are intended as a guideline only)

Note that working hours can be random and anti-social, and you will often need to be on call.  You will need to travel around a lot for outreach work.

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.

The website offers or recommends the following courses:

- FDAP Drug & Alcohol Professional Certification [DANOS-based]

- FDAP/Adfam Drug & Alcohol Family Worker Professional Certification

- FDAP National Counsellor Accreditation Certificate (NCAC) 

- FDAP Professional Award in Management & Leadership Techniques Level 3

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.


You can find work with a range of organisations including:

- Charities

- Housing associations

- Health agencies

- Local authorities

- The probation service

- Prisons.

With experience, you could become a volunteer coordinator or project team leader. You could also specialise in working with a particular user group, for example young people.

List of Potential Jobs:

- Clinical Coordinator in Substance Misuse.

This full time position pays roughly £30,000-40,000 per year on the basis of a 37.5 hour week.  (2017)

Benefits of the position often include-

-Employer pension contributions

-Life assurance scheme

-Comprehensive training

-Discounts and shopping and vouchers.

Possible cons -

Potentially aggressive clients. Challenging. High level of responsibility.

This role is conducted within secure environments including, but not limited to, prisons, training centres, immigration centres and police custody suites.

 The fundamental aim is to provide high quality service and optimum patient outcomes by utilizing a highly skilled and motivated team which is supported by a robust governance process.

Job Outline -

-Take a lead role in providing a successful implementation of Substance Misuse Clinical Services

-Work as a senior substance misuse nurse prescriber within a multi-disciplinary team, providing care to patients with a wide range of substance misuse issues.

-Ensure that the physical and mental health needs of patients are met in line with professional, contractual and company obligations.

Main responsibilities

-Provide health and social care

-Assess patients and determine a course of action

-Provide senior nursing advice on substance abuse

-Liaise with key stakeholders to ensure a smooth delivery of services.

-Provide professional advice and support

-Communicate effectively and engage in training and selection of staff where necessary.

Essential Skills:

- Part registration experience 

- 1 NMC registration

- Experience of working within a team

- Able to demonstrate a high level of literacy and numeracy

- Able to provide examples of diversity in practice

- Able to work within challenging and complex situations

- Experience of working with potentially aggressive people

- Evidence of ability to develop and maintain effective working relationships at all level.

- Hold a Non Medical prescriber qualification

- Experience of managing patients with substance misuse issues – both drug and alcohol proven post nursing.

The Ideal Candidate:

Desirable Skills:

- Evidence of further development of own clinical practice

- Experience of working within a secure environment

- Degree level qualification or above

- Hold a Nurse Practitioner qualification

- Evidence of working within a ‘value for money’ service

- Driving License and use of a vehicle

- RCGP 1 and 2

The position is dependent on the prospective employee providing a minimum of a 5 to 10 year checkable employment and education history, as well as evidence of a clean criminal record.

- Substance Misuse Staff Nurse

This full time position pays £34,000-£40,000 (2017)

Potential Benefits include -

-Company pension scheme

-Life assurance scheme

 -Comprehensive training

 -Discounts and shopping and vouchers.

Job outline-

Provide care and implement recovery plans for substance abusing patients.

Main responsibilities:

- Ensure safety and security procedures are adhered to

- Clinically implement substance misuse DART treatment. This includes drug and alcohol assessment, care planning and medical dispensing.

- Assess psychosocial needs of the patient on a continual basis.

- Be a proactive member of the management team, attending meetings and ensuring performance targets are met.

The ideal candidate has the following:

- 1st level RN/RMN currently registered

- Evidence of CPD

- More than 2 years experience as an NMP (V300)

- Driving license

- Substance Misuse  Practitioner

This 37 hour per week full time position pays £23,000- £28,500 (2017)

Job description:

Support for young people misusing substances as well as their parents.  Management of a caseload of vulnerable young people offering advice and action plans. Must undertake substantive substance misuse assessments.

Main responsibilities and requirements:

- Offer treatment interventions and methodologies

- Liaise with partnership agencies

- Innovation required

- Experience working with 18-24 year olds in care is a major plus

- A minimum of S/NVQ in Health and Social Care

- Experience of therapeutic treatment intervention

- Experience undertaking assessments, 12 week care plans and 1:1 structured interventions all major pluses.

- Group Worker- Resettlement

 This is Part time- based on a 20 hour week covering 3 days. You would earn £22,000 pro-rata.

Group workers help to change vulnerable people’s lives by designing and delivering service to vulnerable young people, equipping them with the advice, skills and attitude to go on and be an indispensible part of the community.

Ideal applicants will:

- Have experience guiding and advising offenders or ex-offenders in either housing or homelessness.

- Have experience working in the Criminal Justice system or within prisons.

- Have experience achieving performance targets.

- Understand the criminal justice system

- Have a full drivers licence and own car.

- Have a DBS and Enhanced Prison clearance

Based on 20 hours a week the job would pay £11,000

Benefits include:

-28 days per annum holiday


-Support with training and personal development.

- Recovery Worker

Recovery Workers typically earn  between £18-25,000 per year for a 37.5 hour full time week.

Job Description:

Provide a full range of support options to help adults with drug and alcohol problems. This includes advising, guidance through structured treatment programmes, medical assistance and alcohol community detoxification.

The fundamental aim is to help the patient recover from substance misuse and to become an integral part of the community.

Ideal Candidates will have the following skills:

-Team player

- Ability to give Psychosocial support

- Ability to administer Medical assisted recovery.

- Experience in risk management, risk assessment, needle exchange, screening and assessment and recovery.

The role will involve supporting adults who use substances to the detriment of their health and lifestyles.

- Young Person’s Specialist Practitioner

The salary for this position is between £21,000 and £29,000.                          

Job Description

Help those affected by substance abuse, whether families, communities or individuals.

Help young people reach their full potential by creatively engaging them.


- DBS Check every 3 years. To do this, sign up to the DBS update service which is an automated process and which costs £13 per year.

- Applicants with direct experience working with mental health learning disabilities or drug and alcohol issues are particularly sought after.

- Care certificate is necessary

List of useful links:

Substance misuse courses:







General Information: (Click for link)

Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals


Alcohol Concern


Drugs and Housing

Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI)


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