Vocational Development Program

Vocational Development Program

A big part of drug addiction recovery is being able to get back to a normal semblance of life and being able to sustain it, and a big part of that is being able to have a source of income. But for many people who had substance use disorder, they 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 in order to move on with one’s life with possibility of progress and advancement in order to sustain long-term sobriety. By having prospects on the horizon, there’s a lot less reason to get back into being addicted to drugs.

Therefore, having a vocational development program can be a good complement to substance use disorder treatment to give drug abusers receiving treatment something even more to strive for, especially those from low income groups. Let’s 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 of 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 their faculties are clouded by addictive substances.

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 in order to sustain themselves with both income and purpose. Employment is an important factor in the rehabilitation of someone with 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 out that vocational development programs have shown some success in the rehabilitation of drug addicts, and it’s being improved over time based on existing knowledge, current practice, and their results.

The Need for Vocational Development

The existence of vocational development programs are due to work being a basic human need that can potentially take the place of addictive substances. Being able to work 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 important to understand the meaning that work gives to an individual and how it gives substance to their personal values, beliefs, cultural identity, and how they deal with their social realities and challenges. Having work that provides livable wage gives them fuel for their fire in a consistent manner throughout their active lives.

Defining what work is can be a bit tough, when you really think about it. Its most basic definition can be summed up as a purposeful activity that yields something of economic or social value. Whether it produces or distributes goods and services, or even just helps other people, then it’s work. It’s better if it provides income to the worker, and even more so if they get to thrive from it.

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

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. However, recent reforms in public welfare and other benefit programs have greater stress on the importance of work and self-sufficiency. Because substance use disorder is a common barrier to employment, it’s crucial for vocational services to be incorporated into substance use treatment programs.

To stay true to the very definition of rehabilitation, patients should be able to get back on their feet in every sense of the word, including being able to provide 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 very short 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 the course of their addiction. According to the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 13.8% of unemployed adults over age 18 were current addicts, compared to only 6.5% of fully employed adults.

Take note that these are really old figures, but just goes to show the scale of the problem. The rate of unemployment 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 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 the addiction being treated.

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

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

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 stresses in the workplace that exacerbate their ongoing substance use disorder or trigger relapse.

Those obstacles tend to reside in themselves, as well as their interpersonal relationships and coexisting medical and psychological conditions. Some obstacles can also come from society, scarcity of jobs, and prejudice directed to them due to their substance use disorder. Most employers tend to 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 with overcoming 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 employed.

Competence, punctuality, regular attendance, appropriate dress, responsive to supervision, and being able to properly receive 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.

Much of those soft skills are necessary to get through the treatment to begin with. Being able to attend therapy sessions regularly, report to therapists for regular checks, staying disciplined to remain on course with the treatment, and being honest about one’s current status are necessary in order 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 the most important facets of society as it satisfies an individual’s basic needs, thus fulfilling the need for self-sufficiency and independence. Being able to be less dependent on others is an effective way to eliminate dependence on other things as well, including drugs and alcohol.

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

We here in Regency Recovery Wellness 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 making sure everyone who comes in through our doors gets out with a new lease on life.

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