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How to Become an Addiction Counselor

Addiction counselors help to improve the lives of people struggling with drug, alcohol, and other types of addiction. Addiction counseling will have you working with a variety of clients, or you may specialize in addiction issues that affect specific populations, such as teenagers or military veterans.

As an addiction counselor, you will listen to clients talk about their addiction problems and what causes them to engage in these destructive behaviors. You also will speak to clients about how to cope with addiction and to incorporate proven methods, such as 12-step programs, to help them to recovery.

Every patient is different and is struggling with different types and degrees of addiction, so you could be working with people who are in crisis, while others will meet with you regularly to help their recovery.

If you have patience and compassion and want to help people, a career as an addiction counselor could be a good choice. Please use the information on this page as a resource to learn about what addiction counselors do, where they work, and more.

What Is Addiction Counseling?

Addiction counseling provides patients with an essential support system to help them recover from drug and alcohol problems, gambling addictions, eating disorders, and other issues. By developing a relationship built on trust with the patient, an addiction counselor offers support, resources, and guidance without judgment that patients can use on their road to recovery.

Addiction counseling focuses both on crisis and long-term addiction management problems, which can range from emergency medical intervention to support them in the management of their addiction recovery. (WFU.edu).

In addiction counseling, you will learn how to create a therapeutic alliance with each patient. The decision to get treatment for addiction is a hard one, and it requires much trust between counselors and patients. Effective addiction counselors need to create a lasting bond with each patient, which is what a therapeutic alliance is.

The therapeutic alliance is the trust the patient feels with the counselor. It allows them to feel vulnerable as they sort out their addiction problem and work with the counselor effectively. A strong alliance ensures that the patient views the counselor as trustworthy and that the counselor has their best interests at heart.

Developing the therapeutic alliance takes time, but the patient should eventually feel comfortable with you to speak freely and to feel relief after the appointment. The patient also should want to return to continue their recovery.

In addiction counseling, a strong therapeutic alliance can be made by:

  • Ensuring the patient understands you are interested in their recovery and well being
  • Being attentive to the patient during sessions
  • Tell the patient that you empathize with them
  • Understanding and effectively communicating the major issues at play in addiction recovery

What Do Addiction Counselors Do?

Typical duties of addiction counselors include: (BLS.gov)

  • Evaluate the client’s mental and physical health, addiction, and assess how ready they are for treatment.
  • Develop, recommend and review addiction treatment goals and plans with the client and his family.
  • Assess the client’s ability to develop the skills and behaviors needed to recover from their addiction.
  • Work with the client to identify behaviors or situations that block their addiction recovery.
  • Teach family members about addiction problems and help them to devise strategies to cope with these problems
  • Refer addiction clients to other services and resources, such as support groups and job placement services.
  • Perform outreach programs to help people to understand the signs of addiction and other damaging behavior.

Where Do Addiction Counselors Work?

Addiction, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors held about 304,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of addiction counselors were: (BLS.gov)

  • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers: 19%
  • Individual and family services: 16%
  • Hospitals: 10%
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse centers: 10%
  • Government: 9%

Addiction counselors work in many settings, such as prisons, mental health centers, halfway houses, prisons, parole and probation agencies, and juvenile detention centers.

They also work in employee assistance programs or EAPs, which are mental health programs offered by employers to help their workers manage personal problems.

What Is the Job Outlook for Addiction Counselors?

Employment for addiction counselors will grow by 22% through 2028, which is much faster than average. Employment growth for addiction counselors should grow as people seek help more often for addiction problems. (BLS.gov)

Demand for these professionals also is expected to rise as states want treatment and counseling help for drug offenders instead of jail time. The criminal justice system is recognizing that drug addictions are less likely to commit crimes if they get addiction treatment. Sentences for drug offenders often include requirements to attend counseling and treatment programs.

Also, research indicates that addiction treatment programs are more cost-effective than putting minor drug offenders in prison.

How Can You Become an Addiction Counselor?

To become an addiction counselor, you usually need a degree in mental health or addiction counseling. Depending on the state and the employer, you may need to have an addiction counselor certification after high school in lieu of a bachelor’s degree.

But some states and employers may require a bachelor’s and master’s degree in addiction counseling or a related field. Addiction counselors working in private practice must have a master’s degree. (BLS.gov).

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

An addiction counselor working in private practice must have a state license. Licensing requirements vary, but all states require those in private practice to have a master’s degree and at least 2,000 of supervised clinical work. Also, counselors are required to pass a state examination and complete continuing education requirements annually. (NBCC.org).

Becoming an addiction counselor is a rewarding career path that allows you to assist people to overcome their addiction problems. You also can reduce addiction and crime in American society, which helps everyone. Be sure to review this website’s online master’s programs in addiction and substance abuse counseling so you can take the next step in your new career.

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.