Addiction is a disease of the brain, caused by a complex mix of genetics, family history, environment, and mental health, that can change behavior. People who struggle with drug addiction experience intense cravings and compulsively seek out intoxicating substances, often even when they wish to stop.

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Addiction Treatment Clinical Staff

  • Addiction counselor
  • Certified addiction specialist
  • Therapists
  • Individual therapist
  • Family therapist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Case managers
  • Nutritionist or registered dietician

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is changing as our understanding of addiction changes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment for drug addiction, typically referred to as rehabilitation, should help the person in treatment build the following:

  • Sobriety
  • Abstinence
  • Productivity

Treatment should be different for everyone; however, the foundation of most successful drug rehabilitation begins with detox from the substance, followed by behavioral counseling, medication for cessation (as needed), support for co-occurring mental health issues, social support, and long-term follow-up care to prevent or reduce relapse.

To provide all of these rehabilitation services, treatment programs have numerous people involved at all stages of recovery. Types of staff members that are likely to be part of a clinical team in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program are outlined below.

Members of the Clinical Team in Addiction Rehabilitation

  • Addiction counselor

    This specialist is the core of addiction rehabilitation, no matter where a client goes to receive help. Most states require a form of training and certification or licensure, although this is not yet standard across the US. Background training can include psychology, nursing, social work, or another healthcare focus. Counselors provide support and guidance during recovery to help people overcome addiction by changing their behaviors and plan for the future. They can also help during the detox process, whether that occurs in a hospital or at a rehabilitation center.

  • Certified addiction specialist

    This person can treat physical and psychological complications related to addiction and the long-term changes to the body involved with addiction. To receive this title, a person must either practice addiction medicine with a medical degree and receive board certification from the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM), or they must practice addiction psychiatry and receive board certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Board certification supports that the medical or psychiatric professional has the skills to work specifically with people in drug rehabilitation.

  • Therapists
    Therapists are often addiction counselors, although in a clinical setting, they typically have more training in psychology. There are several types of therapy offered during drug rehabilitation by specific professionals.

    • Individual therapist: This person works with the individual overcoming addiction to help them build skills, remain on track to recovery, understand their addiction better, and reduce the potential for relapse. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most common form of individual therapy, but other styles can be used if they work better for the individual.
    • Group therapist: This type of therapy is provided alongside individual counseling. It reinforces the work in individual therapy through socialization with others in recovery.
    • Family therapist: This person works with the person in recovery, plus the rest of their family. This type of therapy rebuilds family relationships and trust by understanding a lineage of potential substance abuse and mental health issues. Working with children and adolescents in family addiction therapy can help to prevent them from struggling with addiction later in life.
  • Psychiatrist

    Generally, psychiatrists train in psychotherapy, and they can also prescribe medication. In a rehabilitation setting, these individuals are vitally important because they can diagnose co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, and develop an understanding of how these conditions interact with and compound each other. They can then prescribe medications that ease mental health symptoms and symptoms of withdrawal that might linger. A psychiatrist is also responsible for monitoring their clients for any potential signs of substance abuse or addiction related to the prescription medications.

  • Nurses

    This role is one of the most crucial in the whole team of addiction recovery specialists. Nurses teach their patients about the dangers of substance abuse, specifically regarding changes to major organ systems, including the brain. They also help to manage pain, regulate prescription medications, and report their patient’s changing condition to the rest of the team. Many nurses who specialize in addiction treatment receive a specific certification, giving them the title Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN).

  • Social workers

    This position is sometimes considered the central point for all the other substance abuse specialists to gather around. In addiction treatment, social workers help their clients manage prescription medications, including updating prescriptions as needed; they provide counseling to clients overcoming addiction, as well as to family and friends of the client; they perform assessments as the person goes into rehabilitation; and they help to develop a treatment plan, based on the assessment and client wishes.

  • Case managers

    Sometimes confused with social workers, a case manager can offer some of the same guidance as a social worker and may even be the individual therapist who works with the person in recovery. Ultimately, regardless of other roles, the case manager is the person who helps to coordinate resources for their client. These can include medicine, psychotherapy, and other aspects of rehabilitation; it can also include job retraining, legal help, housing, and other aspects of life that a person will need in the long-term to remain stable. A case manager advocates for their client’s needs.

  • Nutritionists or registered dieticians

    While a nutritionist or registered dietician has not always been a standard part of the clinical recovery team, this role is becoming increasingly common. Drug and alcohol addiction causes serious nutrient deficiencies in the body, which can lead to serious long-term, or even chronic, health issues. Additionally, managing a balanced diet through withdrawal can help to ease some symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, blood pressure, and pre-diabetes. A nutritionist gathers information about a client’s original eating habits and helps them build a routine that includes eating plenty of protein, fiber, and fruits and vegetables. The nutritionist or dietician can help the person gain weight, if necessary, and then maintain a healthy weight. They can help navigate socioeconomic barriers to good eating habits, understand how to get the best nutrition based on menu information at a restaurant, and develop a schedule for eating meals. They may even provide cooking classes, so their clients can make healthy meals at home.

Get Help Overcoming Addiction

When a person enters a rehabilitation program, whether it is an inpatient or outpatient program, they will have numerous people helping them to overcome addiction. Emotional support from family and friends is deeply important, but it is also important that the individual have professional, trained, and licensed clinical specialists to manage short-term and long-term treatment. This includes help with safely detoxing from drugs of abuse, participating in individual and group therapy, managing prescription medications and nutrition, and much more. A high-quality rehabilitation program should offer an experienced team to support clients through the recovery process.