Help Heal Your Community with Alcohol & Drug Studies

California has just reopened its economy and for the Bay Area, the end of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be in sight. This is cause for celebration, but we can’t forget about what has been called the companion pandemic — the opioid crisis. In certain places in both the U.S. and Canada, opioid deaths outpaced coronavirus deaths in 2020. 

Programs like San José City College’s Alcohol and Drug Studies (ADS) Program are crucial to provide individuals with the education and experience needed to help heal our communities and halt this devastating public health crisis. 

Today we’re going to explore the importance of alcohol and drug studies, our growing offerings, and potential careers for folks who choose to study addiction.

“Being able to effectively treat individuals suffering from addiction and mental illness is an extremely important and vital service to provide to our community.”

Sketch Salazar, current SJCC student

Alcohol & Drug Studies Supports Critical Health Services

Our communities are in desperate need of compassionate professionals who can support a growing population struggling with drugs and alcohol. Especially as mental illnesses like anxiety and depression hit record levels. But before we dive into these important service careers, let’s define some of the basics.

Addiction and Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Unfortunately, there’s still a huge stigma for those who are seeking treatment for their struggles with drugs and alcohol.

For many years, labels like substance abuser, addict, and alcoholic have been commonplace. But they are also full of negative implications. So since 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has intentionally abandoned these terms, to normalize more neutral language.

Now, the most widely accepted term for all three of the previously mentioned, is substance use disorder (SUD). This term removes stigma and also helps minimize people feeling defined by their condition; so that they don’t feel reduced to a label.

But what is SUD?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequence,” says the APA website. “People with SUD have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) such as alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where the person’s ability to function in day to day life becomes impaired. People keep using the substance even when they know it is causing or will cause problems. The most severe SUDs are sometimes called addictions.”

Treatment for SUDs is unique to every individual and it touches many different fields.

Individual Treatment of Substance Use Disorder 

Treatment looks different for everyone. PsychCentral describes it as a “flexible continuum of care.” This contimuum includes treatments like: inpatient, outpatient, residential, and hospitalization.

Different SUD treatment is based on three basic models:

  • Psychological model — This may include behavioral or talk therapy and looks at emotional dysfunction or potentially harmful motivations as the main cause of SUD.
  • Medical model — This requires medication to relieve symptoms and treatment by a physician. It emphasizes the physiological, biological, or genetic causes of SUD.
  • Sociocultural model — This aims to alter the physical and social environment of a person with SUD to address possible deficiencies in that environment. It may include self-help or spiritual activities. Oftentimes, people who have personal experience with addiction and are in recovery themselves facilitate treatment.

As you can see, treatment needs to be personalized and holistic. This also means that there are lots of different career pathways if you want to help people with SUD. The primary options would be in health, psychology, social work. But there’s certainly room for other careers in criminal justice, education, and even policy

Now let’s explore why these service careers are so urgent today.

The Opioid Epidemic in the North America and Abroad

Since the opioid problem emerged in the U.S. in the 1990s, it has become increasingly severe. 

According to the CDC, “from 1999–2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.” These tragic death rates show no signs of slowing.

While the opioid crisis is most serious in the U.S. and Canada, it’s spreading to Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, and even Myanmar. And sadly due to COVID-19, things have gone from bad to worse.

“This is a challenging and rewarding career.”

Dr. Mary Cook, SJCC faculty

COVID-19 Has Magnified Substance Use Disorders

In the second half of 2019, the opioid crisis was already worsening, but once COVID-19 hit — the resulting dramatic spike in opioid deaths was awful.

The pandemic has been devastating for individuals who were at risk of or already struggling with SUD. According to the State of Addiction Treatment 2021, this is due to countless reasons including increased mental distress, job insecurity, isolation, and recovery groups moving to Zoom. These losses are deeply damaging to our communities.

The same report found that mental illness quadrupled among the adult American population during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the most staggering increases for Black, Hispanic, and mixed race Americans as well as Americans without a high school diploma. Alcohol consumption also skyrocketed, most dramatically in women. Needless to say, mental health should be a high priority for everyone.

“The crisis is national but the struggle is personal,” President Joe Biden said in an April address. Part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan allocates $4 billion to mental health and substance use disorder. This is an encouraging policy move. It also means increased demand for drug and alcohol specialists. It is these empathetic professionals who make the biggest difference. 

But to become one of these drug or alcohol specialists, you need the education and training to back up your passion to help others. That’s where SJCC’s Alcohol & Drug Studies Program comes in.

Alcohol & Drug Studies at San José City College

Our ADS Program has been growing steadily over the past 30 years. This is thanks in large part to the Program Developer and Coordinator, Dr. Mary Cook, who has been an ADS champion since the program was founded.

We have been expanding our offerings, meeting local needs, and educating incredible individuals who give back so much to their communities.

Here’s everything you need to know about Alcohol & Drug Studies at SJCC.

Certificates, 2-Year Degrees, Flexible Class Schedules & Internships

Our ADS Department has some of the most extensive offerings and flexible class schedules. Here are your many choices at SJCC.

  • Certificate of Achievement-Level 2
  • Addiction and Criminal Justice Certificate
  • Licensed Advanced Addiction Counseling Certificate
  • Integrated Behavioral Health Certificate
  • Substance Use Prevention Certificate
  • Peer Mentor Certificate
  • AA Degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies
  • AS Degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies

With these expansive offerings you can start your career in health, psychology, or criminal justice. And with most of these certificates, you can make a career shift pretty quickly. Especially because of our program’s link to local organizations.

“Our Alcohol and Drug Studies program requires a one-year internship placement in an addiction treatment center, and we contract with agencies all over the valley to provide these placements,” Dr. Cook said.

“It opens the doors for opportunities beyond just counseling, it’s set up and prepares you to work with many facets among the drug and alcohol dependent population in the community and other areas,” said current SJCC student, Laura Guiterrez. 

Guiterrez, who is in recovery herself, has already completed two certificates and is currently pursuing her AA in Alcohol and Drug Studies. She successfully switched careers after 20 years in the grocery business. Now she works as an Addiction Counselor at Momentum.

Our programs are also designed to work around your schedule, with rotating class offerings by semester and evening options too. “This program at SJCC was so convenient for me,” Guiterrez said. “It allows people to fit the courses around their work schedules or family life.” 

To learn more about each of these programs, check our ADS Department website.

“This community needs more help. I want to be that person, the one who has their hand out.”

Laura Guiterrez, SJCC student
Laura Guiterrez, a current student at San José City College poses at the 2020 commencement ceremony after completing two certificates in Alcohol and Drug Studies.
Laura Guiterrez poses at SJCC’s 2020 Commencement Ceremony.

A Joyful & Supportive Community

Many ADS students and faculty at SJCC are either in recovery themselves or come from families that have been deeply affected by addiction. This is extremely useful for everyone, because it helps create an academic community that is profoundly open and honest.

“The instructors really value the input of the students and do their best to create an atmosphere that is welcoming and non judgemental,” said Sketch Salazar, a current SJCC student. “This helped me get a better insight into others’ thinking so as to better understand the material and the experiences that people go through when they are suffering from addiction or alcoholism.”

Salazar struggled with SUD and homelessness, but she’s in recovery now and working toward two AA degrees in Psychology and Alcohol and Drug Studies. 

“I enjoyed feeling like I was with family or close friends in the ADS classes  because most of us are in recovery and are able to relate to one another. There is a lot of support, understanding and compassion in all of the classes,” Salazar said.

Studying addiction can feel heavy and certainly takes an emotional toll. But at SJCC, the community knows the importance of balance and finding lightness in challenging spaces.

“Whether it was in ethics, pharmacology or during practicum.There was always so much laughter in each of the classes,” Guiterrez said, “yet the seriousness was always at the core.”

SJCC’s incredible ADS faculty and alum are not only experts in their specialties, they are also skilled at holding important space for whoever needs it.

“Long term sobriety is achieved with support, not in isolation.”

Dr. Mary Cook
Dr. Mary Cook (center) with ADS students at the Treatment Works Awards Dinner in 2019.
Dr. Mary Cook (center) with ADS students at the Treatment Works Awards Dinner in 2019.

Continue Your Education with an AA Degree

Pursuing further education is increasingly common for ADS students. “The profession has continued to increase the level of educational requirements over time,” Dr. Cook said.

“After I graduate from SJCC  I intend on transferring to SJSU and pursuing a double major in psychology and social work,” Salazar said. She plans to become an addiction psychiatrist. Many other students pursue similar paths. Now let’s explore the many jobs available for ADS graduates.

ADS Career Options Are Rewarding and in High-Demand

The ADS program prepares you for a fulfilling career of your choosing. As a drug and alcohol specialist, you’ll make a real and lasting positive impact in your community. 

“Long term sobriety is achieved with support, not in isolation, and coming out of this period of time, the demand for services will be higher than it was in 2019,” Dr. Cook said. “I am receiving an unusually high number of requests from agencies seeking certified addiction counselors.”

“I want to have the education and experience to better help those that need it most,” Salazar said. “Being able to effectively treat individuals suffering from addiction and mental illness is an extremely important and vital service to provide to our community.”

Here are some of the careers available to you after completing the ADS program.

  • Primary Addiction Counselor/Supervisor
  • Case Manager
  • Program Director
  • Prevention Educator
  • Co-occurring Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Crisis Intervention Specialist
  • Criminal Justice Addiction Counselor
  • Assessment/Placement Specialist

“This community needs more help. I want to be that person, the one who has their hand out, the one that has no judgement, no ridicule. I want to help these people that are stuck in addiction and not only let them know that I am here to help, but also here to educate them on what addiction does to their overall well-being, but mostly I am here to support them,” Guiterrez said.

For more career opportunities check out SJCC’s ADS page.

Be the Solution as an Alcohol and Drug Specialist

When one person heals, everyone around them heals. But you need the right experience, tools, and education to help people down that path.


So if you want to be part of the solution, check out the Alcohol and Drug Studies Programs at San José City College and help heal your community through recovery. And if you’re interested in similar career pathways check out our EMT, medical assisting, and biology programs today.