Entering the field of substance abuse counseling is similar to entering the field of coaching, fields that provide the support, encouragement, and training needed to achieve a goal that an individual wants to achieve, but can't do it alone.
And just as many former athletes enter the field of coaching, so do a large number of former substance abusers enter the field of substance abuse counseling, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) document "What Is Substance Abuse Treatment?" This document states that about half of the licensed or certified substance abuse treatment counselors are individuals in recovery themselves. Find out more at process of addiction recovery.
Others who enter the field of substance abuse counseling are often individuals who had family members or close friends with a substance use disorder, experiencing firsthand the pain of addiction, but also the joy and rewards for those who recover. Still others are compassionate individuals, passionate about changing and empowering lives, and choose to enter the field of substance abuse counseling to make a difference.
Outpatient and Inpatient Centers, Hospitals, and Prisons
Substance abuse counseling in most facilities takes place within the context of a team of professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists, where the counselor stays involved with the client throughout the entire treatment process.
The counselor provides the assessment of the client, asking questions that help the entire team plan appropriate interventions and counseling services. For more information visit substance abuse counseling.
The substance abuse counselor then focuses on getting the client to stop using drugs or alcohol, and helping him or her stay drug-free. They discuss how to identify triggers that cause clients to crave drugs or alcohol, such as a time or place where they used the drugs, people they used with, and stressful situations that contributed to the abuse.
According to the SAMHSA document What Is Substance Abuse Treatment?, counselors help clients:
- See the problem and become motivated to change
- Change his or her behavior
- Repair damaged relationships with family and friends
- Build new friendships with people who don't use alcohol or drugs
- Create a recovery lifestyle
Organizations for Substance Abuse Counseling
Locations Where Substance Use Treatment Was Received among Persons Aged 12 or Older: 2008*
Substance abuse treatment and counseling occurs in facilities dedicated to helping those with abuse and addiction disorders, or hospitals and doctor's offices where individuals seek help for the ravages of abuse on abusers' physical and mental health.
Locations for acquiring help for those affected by substance abuse are many. The same goes for those exploring career options.
* Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-36, HHS Publication No. SMA 09-4434). Rockville, MD.
Self-Help Groups include twelve step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Naranon and many others.
Substance abuse counselors also conduct counseling sessions at facilities, and for independently run twelve-step programs. A number of self-help groups exist, but the most common are:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
- Marijuana Anonymous (MA)
Self-help groups benefit those with substance use disorders, allowing participants to openly share their feelings in a safe, confidential environment with others who won't judge or criticize them.
These groups also provide a support group for many who leave inpatient and outpatient treatment centers but still need the support to remain off of drugs and alcohol, and to identify triggers that might induce them to start using again.
Preparing for a career in the field of substance abuse counseling
If you are interested in working in the field of substance abuse and addiction counseling, receiving a psychology-based undergraduate degree is the first step. Most treatment facilities and other organizations require a master's degree and certification to work as a substance abuse counselor. To get started, request information from schools offering degrees in psychology, inquiring about certificates and licensure in the field of substance abuse and behavioral disorders.