Lived experience: Characteristics of workers in alcohol and other drug nongovernment organizations. Contemporary Drug Problems

February 2020
Chapman, J., Roche, A.M., Kostadinov, V., & Hodge, S. (2019). Lived experience: Characteristics of workers in alcohol and other drug nongovernment organizations. Contemporary Drug Problems. Epub Ahead of Print, 20 December 2019.


Workers with lived experience of problematic AOD use and recovery from AOD form a central part of the AOD workforce. While there is widespread support and commitment to growing and developing the lived experience AOD workforce, little is currently known about their numbers or characteristics. A preliminary assessment is essential to identify key areas for support and estimate future workforce needs. To address this knowledge gap, NCETA, in collaboration with the Network of Drug and Alcohol Agencies (NADA), conducted a purpose-designed online survey of NSW non-government AOD workers to:

  1. Investigate the prevalence of lived experience in AOD workers
  2. Build an initial profile of workers with lived experience
  3. Identify areas where appropriate support mechanisms and professional development needs may be warranted
  4. Generate recommendations for future work.


The survey instrument was co-designed by NCETA, NADA and Matua Raki, New Zealand, and formed part of a larger study that examined AOD worker wellbeing in Australia and New Zealand.

Lived experience was assessed by asking respondents to indicate whether they had experienced problematic AOD use, for which they may or may not have sought treatment or support. Respondents with lived experience were asked to indicate whether they had disclosed their lived experience in their workplace and whether their current role was an identified lived experience position. Other measures included demographic and workforce characteristics, work-related psychosocial factors, and health, quality of life and AOD use.

Descriptive analyses compared responses from workers with and without lived experience on key variables.


Two hundred and sixty-eight workers responded to the survey and workers with lived experience comprised 43% of the sample. Of those with lived experience, 68% reported that they had disclosed their lived experience in the workplace and 18% reported that they were employed in a lived experience position.

When compared to their colleagues without lived experience, workers with lived experience differed in several important respects. For example, they were statistically significantly (P<.05) more likely to:

  • Be older; male; and identify as lesbian, gay, homosexual or queer
  • Abstain from alcohol (68% vs. 39%) and less likely to drink at risky levels (32% vs. 53%)
  • Report using opioids including prescription pain medication in the past three months (23% vs. 10%)
  • Experience discrimination in the workplace
  • Experience less social support outside the workplace from family and friends
  • Report lower pay rates despite working similar hours and having comparable years of experience.


This is the first Australian study to examine the profile of AOD workers with lived experience of problematic AOD use. This employee group constitutes a substantial proportion of the overall AOD workforce, and our findings highlight the importance of comprehensive and tailored workforce development and support policies aimed at better understanding and addressing the needs of lived experience AOD workers.

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