What You Need to Know About Substance Abuse Counseling

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Group of people in a counselling sessionLike other counselors and psychologists, substance abuse counselors work closely with individuals and groups to identify problem behaviors and offer solutions. Substance abuse counselors, however, focus on the world of addiction and its far-reaching effects, with the aim of assisting patients in finding the right path to recovery and staying on that path for as long as possible.

Substance Abuse Counselor: A Definition

A substance abuse counselor is a professional who works not only with those who struggle with substance abuse, but often with people who have eating disorders or other behavioral problems like gambling addiction. These professionals spend one-on-one time counseling patients about addiction and mapping treatment plans that will aid patients in moving towards recovery. A substance abuse counselor may work generally or specialize in a specific group of patients, like youths.

Job Responsibilities

Counselors work those who struggle with addiction, listen to their problems, and often use methods like the 12-step program to help these people towards recovery. If the legal system is involved with any client, the counselor may report on progress to a judge. They also meet with clients in recovery and often help them restart careers, find jobs, improve their situations, and refer them to programs that will help them continue to improve. Since family and friends also feel the effects of addiction, substance abuse counselors may counsel family and friends as well.

Qualities of a Counselor

Substance abuse counseling requires a considerable amount of patience and compassion. Good listening skills are key, as are strong communication skills. Putting patients at ease, giving and receiving trust, and working hard to help clients find the right treatment plan is of paramount importance. It’s a difficult job, but also quite rewarding.

Education Requirements

Though it is possible to begin a career as a substance abuse counselor without a master’s degree, the best bet for achieving this career is to get the right education. A master’s degree in counseling is what most employers look for, though a Ph.D. in counseling is also available. In order to open a private practice, you’ll need a license, which requires a master’s degree and at the absolute minimum 2,000 hours of clinical experience. Counselors also need to pass an exam, and continuously engage in ongoing education.

Work Settings

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22 percent of substance abuse counselors work in outpatient facilities. A counselor’s specialization will affect where he or she works. For example, those who specialize in working with kids and teens may end up working in the school district. Some counselors work directly for hospitals, while others may open a private practice. Counselors also work in tandem with detention centers such as jails or prisons.

A quality substance abuse counselor is invaluable to a patient suffering from addiction who wants to go into recovery. And with a diverse range of specializations, such as gambling addiction, drug abuse, or kids and teens, there are many rewarding opportunities for counselors to help people in need.

Additional Reading

What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor? A Career Path in Clinical Mental Health
Counselor vs. Social Worker: Choosing a Path to Inspire Positive Social Change
3 Types of Counseling Specialty Areas and Careers


Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors”
Psychology Today, “13 Qualities to Look for in an Effective Psychotherapist”
HumanServicesEDU.org, “Substance Abuse Counselor”