Drug and alcohol workers help people tackle their drug, alcohol or solvent misuse problems.

What does a drug and alcohol worker do?

Drug and alcohol workers (also known as substance misuse workers) help people tackle and recover from their dependence on illegal, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, alcohol or solvents.

This role involves helping clients to access services such as counselling, healthcare and education. This job could vary widely, depending on personal interests and qualifications, and could include:

  • outreach work – visiting substance users and helping with immediate needs, such as temporary accommodation
  • drop-in centre work – talking to clients about their needs and finding ways of supporting them towards recovery
  • counselling and rehabilitation – giving support and dealing with the causes of substance misuse
  • arrest referral work – supporting clients arrested for drug-related offences
  • education and training – helping clients access services to help them with reading, writing, maths, computer and job-search skills
  • healthcare – working as a specialist nurse in an addiction clinic, prescribing medication and supervising detox programmes
  • advocacy – helping clients to use housing, employment and healthcare services
  • needle exchange – providing clean sharps and giving advice on how to use substances safely and reduce harm to self and society
  • prison 'CARAT' work – Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare in prisons and remand centres, including support with detox programmes
  • youth work – giving emotional support and help with education, employment and training

In some jobs, this role may cover several of these areas or specialise in a particular one.

The role may also include other tasks, such as carrying out risk assessments, designing training and care programmes, as well as providing ongoing support for clients while they deal with their substance misuse issues.

What do I need to do to become a drug and alcohol worker?

You can get into this job through:

  • a college course
  • an apprenticeship
  • working towards this role
  • volunteering
  • applying directly


You may be able to do an introductory course in substance misuse at a local college. You could then follow this up by doing a Level 1 or 2 Award in Substance Misuse Awareness.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for these courses vary.

More information


You could start out by completing an adult care worker intermediate apprenticeship then move into support work.

Entry requirements

You'll usually need:

  • some GCSEs, usually including English and maths, for an intermediate apprenticeship

More information


You can be a support worker with few qualifications, as long as you have enough relevant experience and the qualities employers are looking for.

Volunteering and experience

This is a job where volunteering is highly valued and can lead to paid work. You can find volunteering opportunities by contacting local substance misuse organisations listed on Frank.

Do-it has more information on general volunteering opportunities in your area.

Direct application

You could apply directly to become a drug and alcohol worker. There are no formal entry requirements. You could have an advantage if you've got personal experience of addiction or dependency.

You may also come into this work from a variety of backgrounds, like nursing, criminal justice, social care, youth work or counselling. For example, you may have dealt with drug or alcohol-dependent patients as a nurse, or worked in the probation service, supporting offenders after their release.

Restrictions and requirements

You'll need to:

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Patience
  • Teamwork

Where to find out more

Further information

You can find out more about becoming a drug and alcohol worker from Turning Point.

Alternatively, refer to the below list of organisations for more information:

Where could I be working?

Your workplace would depend on your job. In the justice system, you would be based in a prison or remand centre. In outreach work, you would travel around your district, visiting centres and schools. You could also be based at a health centre, residential rehabilitation unit or housing association office.

Your working environment may be emotionally demanding.


Career opportunities

With experience, you could become a volunteer coordinator, project team leader or service manager.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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