An In-Demand Profession, Few Degree Programs to Put People in the Profession
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the job growth rate for addictions/substance abuse counselors will be 22% in the next ten years, which is three times the average job growth rate, due to the nationwide addiction epidemic and recognition that it is a legitimate disease. The BLS also predicts that there will be more jobs available than graduates in the addictions field. A profession that is so high in demand should have degree programs popping up at every college and university, right? Ironically, no.
Most addictions counselors or future addictions counselors are people whose lives have been personally impacted by the disease, which is mostly people who have struggled with addiction themselves. I, as an immediate family member of people who have struggled with the disease and struggler of my own addiction of co-dependency, desired to become an addictions counselor when I was in sixth grade. However, my co-dependency and indolence steered me away from my dream until I was in the middle of my senior year of high school and already accepted and (thought I was) committed to a local university. However, the university that I was accepted to did not have an addictions counseling degree program. I had known for years that a neighboring county college had an Addictions Counseling degree program. After registering for some classes, I learned from a local university that degree was not transferable to any state university because it was an Associate's in Applied Science, which meant it was intended for people who only wanted an associate's degree and started working. I knew from my psychology teachers, internet research, and some people who worked in similar fields that a master's degree was essential to earn a livable salary and to be eligible for an ample number of job opportunities. After that, I decided to just study social work or psychology as an undergraduate and wait until my online master's degree program (because none of my local universities had a master's program in addictions counseling either and I wanted to start working full-time after undergrad to gain experience and move out) to learn about addiction, but I did not want to sit through four years of classes that were not directly related to my passion and future career. When I became interested in another community college because it was close to the shore (intending to study psychology and transfer to a university), I learned they were getting a new program in the fall that was an Associate's in Science in Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Addictions Counseling that would seamlessly transfer to a Bachelor's in Science in Psychiatric Rehabilitation from a local university. I thought that program was screaming my name...until I learned all of the addictions courses were only offered at night from 7PM-9:45PM, which did not work with my schedule because the college was already 40 minutes away. The reason the addictions classes were only offered at night was because the college was targeting the classes for working adults who were recovering from addiction; they were not catering to recent high school graduates who desired day classes because almost zero 18 year-old young adults wanted to become addictions counselors.
In the end, I decided that I am just going to have to attend Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) online for their Human Services-Substance Abuse Counseling program, which had a better curriculum and worked with my schedule anyway. However, I would have loved to have had the campus experience and the ability to establish friendships with other students and connections with professors for life lessons, internship/job opportunities, and graduate school recommendations. My final conclusion from my stressful college search was that very few brick-and-mortar schools in this country have addictions counseling degree programs (undergraduate and graduate level) that are feasible to all students' schedules and desired level of education to pursue.
A Call to Action
Addiction is obviously a nationwide crisis ( the job growth rate for addictions counselors reflects that). Almost everybody knows someone who is/has suffered from addiction. As addiction awareness increases, more people of all different ages and backgrounds are going to want to become addictions counselors to participate in the fight. While many people were able to become addictions counselors with just a high school diploma and completion of a six-month certification program back in the day, most jobs now call for a master's degree or at least a bachelor's degree with experience or the intention to pursue a master's degree. Colleges and universities need to have transferrable associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree, and master's degree programs that cater to both the working adult and recent high school graduate. Though it may seem like not many people will enroll, advertisement and time will boost the enrollment numbers. The more people that become educated to fight the disease, the more lives will be saved and the more the stigma will be shattered.
Tips for Finding a College with an Addictions Counseling Program
Note: This blog post is not reflective of my personal opinion of 12-Step Programs or 12-Step-Alternative Programs. I am just stating the facts for those who are seeking something other than 12-Step Programs or (like myself) are looking to supplement the help that they receive from 12-Step Programs
People's schema of addiction self-help meetings are a group of people sitting around in a circle and stating "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and I'm an alcoholic/addict," reading the 12 Steps, and saying the Serenity Prayer. Twelve Step Meetings have been the go-to addiction self-help meetings for the past 83 years. While millions of people have found success in them, many people have come in conflict with them or feel like they need an addendum. In recent years, 12-Step-Alternative Meetings started emerging. Traditional recovery professionals and long-time recovering individuals were appalled and eager to say that they were not as effective. However, numerous studies have showed that 12-Step-Alternative Programs are just as effective -if not even more effective than 12-Step Meetings.
Common Issues People Run Into With 12-Step Programs
Twelve-Step Programs have a "Take what you like and leave the rest policy"; therefore, there are no requirements in belief or action. The only requirement for the program is that you qualify for whichever program you are in (e.g. have alcoholism, drug addiction, a problem of alcoholism/addiction in a relative or friend, etc.). Many atheists and agnostics (like myself) have been successful in 12-Step Programs by doing just that. The 12-Steps and literature are reflective of the time in which they were written, which is why the word "God" is often mentioned and prayer is a part of the meetings. Today, many people's Higher Power is simply the program itself or anything else outside of themselves that gives them incentive to recover.
List of Twelve-Step-Alternative Programs
Regardless of people's reason for not believing in or not wanting to be a part of a 12-Step Program, they should be aware of the alternatives that are available to them. While 12-Step Programs have been the only option for most of the past century, they are no longer the only option.
Here are some Twelve-Step-Alternative Programs:
Where Have I Been?
I know that have been off the radar for the past month. The reason being is I was dealing with the typical end-of-school year workload, getting my wisdom teeth out, working for Textbroker, trying to make my final college decision, and graduation (Yaye for me! Class of 2018). Now that it is summer and it has been determined that I will be attending college online this fall, I should have more time to post on here more. However, life takes on a life of its own, so I can't make any promises.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, I graduated high school in this past month. The weeks prior to graduate were an interesting hybrid of excitement and despondence. No, I was not despondent about leaving high school or the only September through June, Monday to Friday, non-holiday life I've known for the past 13 years; I was despondent about the absence of my extended family, particularly one extended family (my incarcerated, addicted cousin whom I have a co-dependency problem to and who will be released from prison at the end of this month). The idea of having two spare tickets to my graduation to give away to my friend crushed me. For weeks, I was angry, depressed, and even contemplating suicide. Having vivid dreams about him did not help (see my post about "Coping With Dreams About Relapse").I began to think that his absence in my life and disinterest in me was due to something being wrong with me. However, relapse is a part of recovery if used as a learning experience. Though I am still struggling a little, I know that if I keep the Al-Anon principals front and center in my life (by that I mean actively working the program), I will be fine.
The Tool that is Most Helpful in the Situation
The tool of "You can't find bread in a hardware store" was my lifesaver. On page 2 in Courage to Change, it says:
"Turning to an alcoholic for affection and support can be like going to a hardware store for bread. Perhaps we expect a "good" parent to nurture and support our feelings, or a "loving" spouse to comfort and hold us when we are afraid, or a "caring child" to want to pitch in when we are ill or overwhelmed. While these loves ones may not meet out expectations, it is our expectations, not our loved ones, that have let us down."
The reading goes on to talk about how who struggle with alcoholism (or any other mental illness or affliction) may not be able to express love an support as we, as their loved ones, expect it.
I was introduced to the concept two years ago in Al-Ateen. At first, I merely memorized the saying, "You can't find bread in a hardware store." When I took the time to ruminate the meaning of that saying, I realized that it means that I cannot go looking for something that is unavailable. While the topic is worded figuratively, the literal topic is "expectations."
Applying that Tool
That metaphor translates into the relationships with my addicted and/or dysfunctional family members is I cannot expect them to meet my expectations of a healthy family. An analogy is I cannot expect a person with a sprained ankle to run a marathon. For example, my expectations for my cousin were for him to stand up for me when I was mistreated by his now ex-girlfriend and addicted "friends," protect me from danger, be amenable to my suggestions for his recovery, maintain a letter correspondence during the remainder of his incarceration, want to be actively involved in my life upon his release by the means of calling/texting, hanging out, and spending holidays and other special occasions together.
As you have predicted, he did not meet any of those expectations. Another page in Courage to Change states that "An expectation is a premeditated resentment." If I did not expect my cousin to do XYZ, I would not have resentment about him not meeting my expectations. The reality is that he is an individual who still has the defects of character of an active user, most likely will go back to active addiction upon his release, possibly has a co-occurring mental disorder (most likely a personality disorder that has no cure), and therefore, prefers to hang with the unhealthy family members and his addicted friends because that is who he resonates with.
Last week, I was having a discussion with a fellow Al-Anon member before the meeting about how the program helps us realize how much of a role we actually play in a dysfunctional situation when we are so quick to blame the other people involved. I have realized that the problem is not him and his choice to excommunicate me from his life; the real problem is my expectations of him. I had the idea of archetypal parent, cousin, and friend in my head and wanted those people in my life to meet the standards of the archetype; however, because they had addiction, mental illness, and/or their own set of issues, they could not meet the standards of the archetype.
Other Tools that Help
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.