Break the cycle with a career in alcohol and other drugs support

Break the cycle with a career in alcohol and other drugs support

If you want to make a difference in the lives of those struggling with substance abuse, a career in alcohol and other drugs treatment and support services could be for you. Here’s how to make it happen.


If you’ve never suffered or been exposed to alcohol or drug addiction, you may be unaware of the many unsung heroes who work quietly behind the scenes, assisting others on their road to recovery. These people say making a difference in the lives of those battling substance abuse is a challenging but rewarding task.

Each year around 40,000 Victorians seek the support of Victoria’s alcohol and other drugs (AOD) treatment and support system within the fast-growing health care and social assistance industry. Many qualified specialists are employed to assist patients as they work to break the cycle.

Chisholm Institute Alcohol and Other Drugs, Mental Health and Counselling Education Manager Doug Paroissien says that those who would like to work in the AOD field need to be empathetic and a great listener. “You also need to be open-minded, take on board what’s being explained and use your investigation skills to identify what the issues are. Being flexible and resourceful is also important”.

If you have some of these qualities, a career in AOD support could be your next move.

What does working in Alcohol and Other Drugs support involve?

AOD workers usually work in community-based organisations, withdrawal services, residential rehabilitation services and outreach services, under the guidance of other practitioners and health professionals.

“You are working with people first and foremost and it’s important to be non-judgemental. People who are experiencing challenges in life that have developed over a period of time are reaching out for assistance. It’s important to work on agreed outcomes, make appropriate referrals, be adaptable and address the person’s needs” Doug says.    

The type of work you do will depend on your qualifications. If you have a Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs you could work as a support worker in a rehabilitation unit or as an AOD outreach worker. If you are diploma-qualified you could work as a case worker, conducting assessments and setting out treatment plans.

What are the benefits of working in community support services?

You get to watch people progress through their journey and work towards their personal goals. You meet great people, gain exposure to all different lifestyles, situations, views and opinions which all contribute to your personal growth and self-development. You get to work with supportive colleagues and there is ongoing professional development available.

What are the challenges?

According to Doug, every day is different. “You can’t always stick to proposed timelines and targets which is where adaptability and being flexible comes into it. Some issues can be confronting and could challenge your ethics and beliefs. When working with people there is no lineal path and there are limited support resources available at times.”

Workers are sometimes faced with clients who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, causing them to engage in anti-social behaviour which can be confronting.

Courses and career pathways

There are many paths to choose from in the AOD field. A Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs will qualify you to work as detoxification worker, case worker, alcohol and drugs advisor or outreach worker. A Diploma in Alcohol and Other Drugs could see you working as a drug and alcohol community support worker, a case worker in community services, or an alcohol and other drugs outreach officer.

If you have a strong interest in the mental health sector you could pursue a Certificate IV in Mental Health which can lead to implementing community based programs and activities focusing on mental health, mental illness and psychiatric disability, or a Diploma of Mental Health which will enable you to engage effectively with people experiencing mental health issues and work alongside them to address their needs and goals.

If you are wanting to progress your career even further, you can undertake a Bachelor of Community Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs which can give you the skills you need to provide non-clinical services to specialists such as psychiatrists, nurses and social workers.

To find out more, head to Chisholm’s Community and Social Services page. Chisholm offers Free TAFE for priority courses. Find out about your eligibility.