Industry Crisis: Shortage of Substance Abuse Specialists

“If you put someone on a waiting list, you won’t be able to find them the next day,” says Becky Vaughn of the National Council for Behavioral Health. Anyone who has worked in addiction recovery knows that all too well. So why does it happen so often? Why are there individuals who finally find the courage to change, and then find that help is just out of reach? It’s not a shortage of beds, facilities, or insurance coverage. Instead, we find a shortage of substance abuse specialists in the workforce. This happens for a few specific reasons:

  1. Retirement. The workforce in the addiction recovery industry is older on average than other areas of healthcare and social work. As the older generation moves into retirement, treatment centers say goodbye to their most seasoned and expert therapists, case workers and others.
  2. Burnout or compassion fatigue. This is a common issue among substance abuse counselors. They do a hard job and often take their work home with them more than they realize. Many therapists face exhaustion and their work in addiction recovery lasts for only a few years until they move into other types of recovery and therapy.
  3. Salary. Some of the greatest champions in the recovery field are also the most underpaid. The average salary for social workers in the addiction field is $38,600, compared to $47,230 in the rest of the healthcare industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These three factors contribute to a high rate of turnover in the industry, creating a shortage of substance abuse specialists that is on the verge of crisis. This shortage in specialists comes at a time when insurances are covering treatment at higher rates than ever and rates of addiction are soaring. The crisis is the worst in Nevada where there are only 11 psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and social workers available to treat every 1,000 people with SUDs. Nationwide, that average sits at about 32. By 2020, the need for addiction services professionals will reach 330,000, a number that will be hard to reach based on current trends.

The professionals who are treating addiction are among the bravest people working in addiction recovery. They are the warriors in this industry. Supporting clinicians and social workers, among others, needs to be a top priority for treatment centers so that they can continue their life saving mission.

Download and share the infographics below to raise awareness about the shortage of substance abuse specialists.

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