Abstract: Voices of People in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders (SUDs): What Motivates Them to Enter the Addiction Treatment Field As Counselors? (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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657P Voices of People in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders (SUDs): What Motivates Them to Enter the Addiction Treatment Field As Counselors?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Azahah Abu Hassan Shaari, PhD, Assistant Director, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Subadra Panchanadeswaran, PhD, Professor, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Background and Purpose:

An estimated 34 to 50% of people in recovery from addiction are employed full-time in substance use disorders (SUD) treatment settings (Gallagher, 2010; Knudsen et al., 2006; Ryan et al., 2012). Most research on the career motivation determinants have largely focused on individuals without substance abuse history (Farber et al., 2005; Kaslow, 2005; McCullough, 2000). This exploratory qualitative study is among the few qualitative studies that explored the motivations of individuals in recovery to return to work as counselors and shed light on the challenges of remaining in the addiction field.


This study used a narrative inquiry method to study the experiences of 18 recovering counselors. A combination of purposive and snowball sampling techniques was used to recruit participants from a non-profit organization comprised of a group of volunteers and counselors working in the addiction treatment field. Regardless of their recovery status, all members advocate for better policies and empower those who are in recovery. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were used to collect data from respondents who comprised mostly of trained social workers (67%) and credentialied substance abuse counselors (CASAC). Majority of the participants (55%) self identified as Caucasian, while a third identified as African American. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data reduction methods were used to develop categories and subsequent broad themes from the data.


Major findings of this research included (1) pathways into and impact of addiction and road to recovery, (2) motivation to work in the addiction treatment agencies, (3) experiences as a person in recovery working in as counselors, and (4) juggling work as an addiction counselors while sustaining own recovery. Results indicate that wanting to give back, perceived self-efficacy to work with SUD populations, and previous experiences with addiction staff members’ motivated people in recovery from SUD to become counselors. Themes of experiences as a person in recovery working with SUD clients, including navigating incomprehensible social policies related to insurance and housing while providing services to clients and seeking support from colleagues, peers and therapists also emerged.

Conclusions and Implications:

With high turnover and low retention in addiction treatment staffing (Doukas & Cullen, 2010; Maslach & Jackson, 1981), a better understanding of why recovering individuals enter the addiction treatment field will improve retention rates among practitioners. Findings underscored the importance to provide incomprehensive access to treatment for those in recovery, and proper compensation and supervision to counselors. Study results also point to insufficient social policies to comprehensively address addiction in the workplace. This impacted the ways in which some respondents of this study delivered services to their clients as they spoke about developing social policies that enhance the insurance coverage and housing opportunities for their clients. These circumstances will likely improve the quality of life for those who sought help, thus eventually reducing the number of relapse cases or fatal overdoses.