A Call for Comprehensive Vocational Rehabilitation for Substance Abusers

By: Gregson Gordon

Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities need to facilitate (and /or ally themselves with professionals that facilitate) comprehensive vocational rehabilitation in addition to chemical dependency rehabilitation.

According to data published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that those persons who are unemployed are twice as likely to abuse illicit substances compared to those persons who are employed with full-time jobs.

Substance Abuse Treatment Modalities
The known modalities of effective substance abuse treatment must be primary. These modalities include (but by no means are limited to) abstinence, addiction education, relapse prevention, on-going professional support, and on-going community-based peer support. Being newly clean & sober is challenging enough. These challenges are compounded when one is simultaneously contending with the dynamics of unemployment or under employment.

In many cases, it has taken weeks, or months, for the newly recovering person to reestablish their sense of self-worth, purpose, and value. It should be noted that for many, the prospect of successfully acquiring gainful employment can simultaneously challenge and erode the job seeker’s sense of self-worth, purpose, and value. If these dynamics are prepared for (and experienced) in alliance with the support of a professional Career Development Specialist who is concomitantly providing career facilitation in concert with substance abuse treatment, it would help to mitigate these potentially deleterious components while the client becomes re-introduced and re-acclimated to the job market.

The professionals who provide career counseling are aware that increased employability, and actual employment, can improve an individual’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. All of which are known antidotes to substance abuse, and relapse. The inverse is certainly true given that so many people are suffering (and dying) from the illicit substance abuse. Furthermore, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2006), “Order, routine activities, and a rigid schedule counter the characteristically disordered lives of residents and leave little time for negative thinking and boredom-factors that often contribute to relapse.”

Career Development Modalities
Utilizing Career Counseling modalities such as those listed below can further enhance the statistical percentage that a person will achieve and sustain long-term successful employment, and thus enhance a successful treatment outcome. To achieve this enhanced success, the career counselor can employ the following utilities and perform the following services…

  • The Holland Self-Directed Search as facilitated through the O*NET computer-based Interest Profiler. The advantage of this specific utilization of the Holland SDS is that it can provide a list of suggested vocations / careers that are congruent with a client’s Holland RIASEC scores.
  • Review of statistical data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics are helpful to assure that a client understands the long-term viability of a specific vocation and the projected salary ranges within the client’s geographic area.
  • Locate colleges and technical schools where the client can train to become qualified for the vocations suggested by the O*NET utility.
  • Comprehensive job interview preparation and coaching, and professional resume preparation.
  • Referral to admissions and academic advisors at local community colleges and vocational schools.

Furthermore, a well-coordinated effort of both a substance abuse counselor and a career counselor can significantly help a newly clean and sober individual to become pro-actively informed and prepared for the possible stressors that are experienced when one is re-entering the job market. Stressors include not getting the job for which a client applied, or actually getting the job that the client applied for, which is even more stressful. Both scenarios offer their own accompanying liabilities that a client should be made aware of and preemptively develop a set of coping strategies for. For example, if a client does not get a job for which she or he applied, there is a potential for the client to lapse into a spiral of negative internal dialogue. The client should be coached to not translate the experience into an internal dialogue such as “I didn’t get the job, therefore I’m a failure.” There are also those persons who are newly clean and sober who would have the inverse response if they do get the job for which they applied. The client should be coached to avoid the temptation to say, “I got the job! Let’s open a bottle of champagne and celebrate!” Awareness education and the pre-emptive development of coping strategies can help assure that a client does not interrupt their recovery.

There is one statistical outcome that eludes traditional means of being quantified. That outcome is the sense of self-reliance that has long eluded the person who suffers from the disease of addiction or alcoholism. Having participated in effective substance abuse treatment which provides simultaneous effective facilitation of career counseling, the newly clean and sober individual can experience the intangible quality of “job satisfaction” for having participated in a job that is meaningful to them. The restoration of self-worth for again occupying a contributing role in society is immeasurable. Moreover, it serves to inspire the client as they once again start to achieve and aspire to self-actualization; which is the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. They can walk away from their work day with the re-enforcing refrain of self-affirmations for a job well done; and with enough time, a life well lived.


“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi


Every day that a newly clean and sober person succeeds in their quest to remain clean and sober and participates in a meaningful fulfilling vocation / career requires full effort, and therefore results in full victory.


With the participation of professional career counseling in tandem with comprehensive array of substance abuse rehabilitation services from a bona fide substance abuse treatment facility, the client has acquired the optimal skill set and resources to cope with substance abuse and a potentially life-ending addiction. In so doing, they embrace a new life of satisfaction, fulfillment, and earn a fulfilling livelihood. All of these factors are not only deterrents to recidivism, they are empowering incentives to further perpetuate the client’s successes as they continually show up for their job, their families, and themselves. Most importantly, they show up for life.




Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Therapeutic Community Curriculum: Trainer’s Manual. DHHS Publication N0. (SMA) 06-4121. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.




Gregon GordonGregson Gordon, CCSP BHT, is the Director of Education and Development for a Decision Point which is a Residential Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Treatment Facility in Prescott, AZ. As a former college instructor who is a NCDA Certified Career Services Provider, Gregson provides Academic & Career Counseling services to clients who are newly clean & sober and assists them in fully realizing their potential as valued participants in the work-force, and in life. Gregson can be reached at GGordon@decisionpointcenter.com


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