Addiction Treatment Centers Behaving Badly

A dear friend of mine, who happens to be the best addictions counselor I know, was turned down for a job at a nearby inpatient drug addiction treatment center. They said it was because of his criminal background. He has non-violent felony offenses directly related to his active addiction.

 OK. You’re thinking, “I could see that. He might steal or something.”

 But the felony occurred more than a decade ago. He has had over a decade of stable recovery from the disease of addiction. It astounds me that a drug addiction treatment center – theoretically in business because they believe change is possible for addicts – refuses to hire such a person, who has been able to change his whole life since entering recovery. Is he not more likely to be able to teach addicts how to change and recover than someone who is educated about counseling but has no personal experience?

 I am in favor of having educational standards for addictions counseling. Treatment centers shouldn’t be able to hire people off the street to be counselors if they’ve had no training, even if they are recovering addicts. But my friend isn’t only in recovery; he has a B.S. in Psychology and a Master’s degree in both Community Counseling and Addictions Counseling. I suspect he’s one of the more qualified applicants they’ll have for the job.

 My friend, though disappointed, isn’t bitter. He knows there are other treatment centers, and he will find the job he’s meant to have. It’s not his loss. It’s the treatment center’s loss. They lose out on his amazing ability to help people with addiction.

 I’ve referred patients to this inpatient program. Should I continue to send patients to that center? I don’t want them to be tainted by the attitude that they won’t be able to overcome what’s happened in the past.

  I know decisions about hiring ex-cons and recovering addicts are made high up in this organization, and not by the people actually working in the trenches. Still, I’d rather patients get help at treatment centers who practice what they are supposedly teaching.

4 responses to this post.

  1. My opinion?

    Send your patients somewhere else.

    As someone battling his own demons, individuals like your friend are those whom I view with esteem—or rather, in program parlance, “want what ‘they’ have.”

    If a decade of continuous sobriety isn’t a significant accomplishment to the organization, I’m of the belief they have the wrong decision-makers in positions of power. The proverbial “higher-up”s should be more receptive to the notion of change, not less.

    I mean: cool that your friend isn’t harboring a resentment, but that reiterates why—as a recovering addict—I’d be more likely to heed his advice than I would someone who has a PhD but hasn’t been “in the life,” so to speak. Understanding a disease is not the same thing as having the disease, just as having the disease is not the same thing as taking contrary action against it.

    Moreover, I may not have a criminal record, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever broken the law. Your friend’s past deeds just happen to be written on a different kind of paper. A recovery center is the one institution I’d think would be able to grasp that concept.


  2. Dr. Burson…..This is a great debate topic. I personally am entering college to either pursue dentistry or I have been praying/thinking about being an addiction therapist. I feel the tug to help people with this disease and educate everyone on methadone treatment along with all aspects of addiction.
    Isn’t there a law that your friend is “protected” under being he has been sober for over a decade? He seems to be the epitome of a stable “addict” so the industry should be fighting over him as so many people could benefit from his testimony as well as his education. Keep us posted to his employment status, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. With his apparent attitude he should have no problem in that area of gaining a great job! Tell him to not get discouraged!!


    • Thanks for writing. I don’t think people with a history of addiction who are in recovery can be turned down for employment because of their addiction history, because it’s covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This assumes there’s no active addiction. But I believe in my friend’s case, it was his felony record that eliminated him from consideration. The person who interviewed him seemed to regret she couldn’t hire him, but the parent company’s policy against hiring people with past felonies was set by people higher in the organization. They said it was a “risk management” issue. The parent organization is a large, non-profit hospital that owns numerous types of healthcare facilities. The hospital owns many clinics that have metastasized to many small and medium small towns surrounding Charlotte.

      Their policy is legal. But just because it’s legally allowed doesn’t mean it’s morally correct.

      All I can say is it’s bad juju for them. Meanwhile, my friend has other interviews. I’ll keep you updated.


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