Become an Addiction Counselor

Substance abuse and addiction counselors treat individuals with drug and alcohol addictions, gambling and eating disorders.  This career field is one of the most challenging mental health fields and requires a person with compassion, understanding and empathy.

They also have to be strong, self-confident and honest individuals able to deal with confrontation, stress, setbacks and incremental success.  With the courts more willing to make drug or alcohol rehabilitation as part of sentencing for crimes involving substance abuse and addiction, the field is growing with opportunities in many areas.

What Addiction Counselors Do

Some drug abuse and addiction counselors work in private practice with clients one-on-one or in group settings.  They help clients confront their behavior and work through underlying causes.  Addiction and substance abuse often stem from traumatic situations and an inability to deal with the pressures of life or family relationships.

They also work with family members separately or as a group with the client, or conduct “interventions” which bring together family members and others close to the client as a means of confronting them with reality and to agree to undergo treatment.  Counselors also conduct preventive drug and alcohol addiction awareness seminars.

Counselors frequently deal with crisis intervention situations. Addiction and substance abuse often lead to homelessness, mental illness, AIDS and even death.  Crisis intervention requires a supportive, non-judgmental attitude and the ability to control emotions of anger and frustration when clients revert to their old behaviors.  This type of counseling can be very frustrating and the burnout rate is high.

Education Requirements for Addiction Counselors

Education requirements vary by state, but in some states, a high school diploma, work experience in the field and some college credits in related courses are all that is needed to begin work.  Some states and levels of counseling require a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field and a master’s degree.  In addition, states may require a minimum number of hours of supervised, full-time counseling work in addition to classroom instruction in order to practice as a counselor.

Many colleges and technical schools offer online associate and bachelor’s degree programs with a major in psychology and certificate programs for substance abuse and addiction counseling.  Counselors may be required by the state in which they practice to complete continuing education classes.

Licensing/Certification for Addiction Counseling

Programs vary widely and prepare students for different levels of counseling and preparation for state licensing exams.  Licensing and certification requirements vary widely by state.

Work Environment

Substance abuse and addiction counselors may work in private practice, seeing patients one-on-one or conducting group meetings.   A private setting is essential to make clients feel comfortable sharing confidential and often difficult information as they work through their problems, so most counselors work in private offices.

Some counselors work in mental health clinics, with law enforcement and the prison systems. Since many young adults and adolescents deal with addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs or struggle with eating disorders, middle and high schools, colleges and universities have  substance abuse and addiction counselors on staff to work with students struggling with these problems or to inform students of the warning signs and teach preventive coping skills.

Earning Potential for Addiction Counselors

The Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 data reports the national median annual salary for substance abuse and addiction counselors at $41,000.  The bottom earners made less than $25,000 and the top earned more than $60,000. Colleges, universities and professional schools were the top paying industries for this group with an average median annual salary of about $55,000.

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