Alcohol and drug addiction is the U.S.’s number one health problem, with major implications on the economy, the health care system, the criminal justice system, as well as individual and family life.

These addictions are characterized by dependence on a legal or illegal drug or medication, despite potentially harmful consequences. Addictions cause long-lasting chemical changes in the brain that can interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly and use good judgment.

Drs. Eileen O’Mara and Courtney Hill Gulbro, faculty of the Addiction Studies program at Capella University, discuss addiction treatment and practices and how Capella is equipping graduates with the skills and knowledge necessary to help individuals struggling with or affected by addiction.

Q. What is addiction treatment?

Gulbro: Addiction treatment is intended to help addicts quit compulsive drug use. A wide variety of evidence-based approaches can be employed depending on the types of drugs used and other individual needs. Frequently treatment is conducted via in-patient or outpatient settings, and involves a multidisciplinary approach across a continuum of care from detox to behavioral therapy, and after-care.

O’Mara: In addition, with the Affordable Health Care Act, we are seeing more emphasis on outpatient models of treatment and medically-assisted interventions than in the past.

Q. What are some of the current issues in addiction and how has treatment changed (or remained the same) over the years?

Gulbro:  Drugs of choice change over the years and can vary by age group. Currently opioid addiction (to drugs like heroin and pain medication) is frequently the presenting problem when clients enter treatment.

O’Mara: Prescription drugs are often the beginning of the opiate addiction and require medical interventions as well as counseling in an in-patient and then out-patient program. Along with the opiate-dependent client, elderly clients are presenting with multiple addictions when medications are coupled with life-long drinking patterns.

Gulbro: Marijuana abuse and dependence is also seen, and the use of Spice (an alternative to marijuana) is on the radar. Of course a hot topic now is the legalization of marijuana in some states.

O’Mara: The impact of the legalization on addiction rates is still unknown.

Gulbro: Treatment for alcohol abuse and dependence remains a fairly steady need, as alcohol is the most widely abused substance. Treatment modalities historically have included cognitive-behavioral therapies and 12-step based programs. More recently, motivational interviewing has emerged as an effective approach.

O’Mara: A recent innovation is the use of medically assisted treatment interventions for drug and alcohol abuse. Behavioral addictions such as gambling, Internet, money, and food are also being addressed by the treatment field. Frequently clients found in addiction treatment settings also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders, so treatment must address that as well.  As a result, there is a rise in the number of facilities treating mental health and addiction at the same time.

Q. How does Capella prepare graduates for positions in addiction treatment and prevention programs?

Gulbro: Capella’s Master of Science in Addiction Studies program prepares students to work in addiction treatment settings. It is a clinical program with a residency and fieldwork component, as well as didactic courses.

Q. What are some of the key skills students will develop over the course of the program?

Gulbro: We have designed the program to align with job tasks identified by IC&RC (International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium), which are typically used by states and NAADAC (The Association for Addiction Professionals) in credentialing addiction treatment professionals.

Our students learn how to assess clients and work with them individually and in groups using a variety of intervention methods. They learn how to align with ethical and legal standards, and to work with diverse populations. We cover the treatment of clients suffering from co-occurring mental health disorders as well. We also include a course in supervision and program management, which includes units on program evaluation and organizational leadership.

Q. Can you give a few examples of careers in addiction recovery for graduates of the program?

Gulbro: Graduates with a Master’s in Addiction Studies can work in positions such as an addiction counselor, intake counselor, case manager, chemical dependence professional, correctional substance abuse counselor, and chemical dependence treatment clinical director. These jobs are typically connected to addiction treatment in-patient or out-patient facilities, mental health centers, schools or universities, government agencies, and criminal justice/corrections facilities.

O’Mara: Graduates may also find employment as Employee Assistance Professionals. Some addiction professionals open private practice specializing in addictions.


Learn more about Capella’s Master’s in Addiction Studies.