50 Voices of the Future: The next step in treating addiction with Jerry Synold


In honor of UC San Diego Extension's first 50 years, 50 Voices of the Future asks thought leaders about the trends, breakthroughs and social advances they foresee over the next 50 years.

The way we think about and treat addiction is changing profoundly, partly driven by technology, partly by the costs associated with our nation’s longstanding war on drugs. “In the years to come, marijuana will become legal and breathalyzers will become commonplace, and there will be less incarceration and more treatment of addicts,” says Jerry Synold, an instructor in Chemical Dependency at UC San Diego Extension who also has worked in drug and alcohol treatment with the U.S. Navy for more than 40 years. Synold certifies addiction counselors in the state of California and says that the demand for counselors and program administrators has never been greater.

(1) Why is the work you do important?

Chemical dependency has a tremendous ripple effect: For every alcoholic or addict, ten people are affected. And there are societal costs: prisons, unemployment, homelessness and more.

(2) What are the influential/exciting developments happening in your field now and why?

The “connected” health market will have dramatic effects. Imagine you’re in recovery and wearing a watch that senses when you experience heightened stress. It can alert your counselor or inform you of a nearby Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA) meeting. Also, with more prevalent breathalyzers, we will know when someone on probation drinks or uses. We can prevent the escalation of the drug use and shorten the relapse. We now recognize that relapse is just part of the disease so it’s important that we be able to better manage the relapse.

(3) What’s the next big thing?

Pharmacological treatments will continue to improve; already there are medications to help block alcohol cravings. Genetic research will help us understand why some people are prone to addiction. And in California, we’re expecting a mass release of non-violent users and traffickers, so there will be a need for many more sober-living homes and counselors. The legalization of marijuana is moving quickly, which will likely lead to an increase in drug use among younger people.

(4) How big of an impact will your field play in shaping the future of the San Diego region and beyond?

So many of the advances in pharmacology, genetics, and medical devices are happening at UC San Diego and in the biotech community. San Diego is home to pioneering research, but we’re also witnessing the devastation of mental illness and chemical dependency in our midst. Our veterans have an unusually high rate of suicide. And there’s a painkiller epidemic in North County in the high schools. This is fueling an increase in the use of lethal drugs like heroin as people who become addicted to prescription drugs such as oxycodone, turn to heroin because it’s cheaper. Both the need and the potential for hope and healing are enormous here.

(5) Hop into your time machine…what does the future look like for this field in 50 years? How can individuals/companies get prepared for what’s next?

As the author of the Twelve Steps program predicted, addiction will have less of a stigma. Individuals will get treatment for longer periods of time, not just 21 days, and families will have more access to treatment. People in recovery will use social media and connectedness to support one another. And a greater emphasis will be placed on aftercare which will occur both online and be readily available at meetings and workshops, from AA and NA to SMART Recovery cognitive behavioral approaches. (Editor’s note: SMART Recovery is considered to have a scientific foundation, not a spiritual one and is focused on increasing self-reliance, rather than powerlessness.) Counselors and recovery specialists will administer many of these programs.


Learn more about the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling Certificate program and explore other Behavioral Sciences programs and courses such as Play Therapy and Therapeutic Uses of Art.

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