(Last Updated On: 01/06/2011)

Substance Abuse Counselor Job Description

Substance abuse counselors provide support and treatment to people who are suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. They also provide counseling to friends and families of addicts whose lives are negatively impacted by drug or alcohol abuse.

Though there are many best practices that substance abuse counselors follow, each client has to be treated differently. The roots of addiction vary from person to person, and substance abuse counselors need to take a personal and empathetic approach to each case they handle.

Some substance abuse counselors work with their clients on a one on one basis, while others work with many clients at once in group sessions. Though the majority of their time is spent helping people cope with their life’s stresses and encouraging a sober lifestyle, they also provide other types of support as well.

Many times, counselors help their clients improve their personal relationships, particularly with their family members and close friends. Because so much damage can be done to these relationships during periods of heavy addiction, this process can be difficult. However, it is essential to creating a good support system. Counselors also help their clients find employment, and may work towards rebuilding their professional relationships as well.

Substance abuse counselors are not able to prescribe medicine or provide therapy, so they work very closely with other health and mental health professionals including registered nurses, physicians, social workers, and psychiatrists. These professionals are needed to help diagnose and treat disorders that their clients are suffering from.

Some counselors specialize in working with particular types of people. For example, one counselor may work exclusively with veterans, while another may only work with teenagers. Others work only with people who have reached a point of crisis, and are putting their lives in danger by continuing to use.

Most substance abuse counselors work with a group of other counselors, but some run their own private practice. Running a practice requires a lot of extra work, as these counselors are responsible for managing and marketing their practice in addition to their regular counseling tasks.

If you are a patient and empathetic person who wants a career where you can help people through difficult times in their lives, then working as a substance abuse counselor might be a good choice for you.

Work Environment and Schedule

Substance abuse counselors work in many different environments. Prisons, mental health centers, detox centers, halfway houses, and juvenile detention centers all provide employment opportunities for substance abuse counselors.

Some counselors work in outpatient centers, while others work in residential centers. The difference between the two is that patients in residential centers live in the centers, and remain under their care for a set period of time. In outpatient centers, clients seek short-term help, but often on a recurring basis.

Helping people recover from addiction can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely stressful and even dangerous at times. People go through many emotions when they are recovering from an addiction, and at times may become agitated, angry, or even violent. It can also be difficult to work extremely hard with a client, only to have see them relapse or struggle with personal problems that set back their recovery.

Additionally, substance counselors often work a very demanding schedule. Their workloads can be very heavy, and in some cases, they are not provided with all of the resources that they need to do their jobs effectively.

The majority of counselors work full time. Those who work in residential centers often need to work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

The level of education required to work as a substance abuse counselor varies depending on the type of work that you want to do. Some jobs require only a high school diploma, while others require a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Counselors with higher levels of education are able to work more independently and provide more services than those with lower levels of education.

To work in a private practice, substance abuse counselors need to be licensed. To become licensed, counselors needs to hold a master’s degree and complete between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of supervised work in a clinical environment. Licensed counselors also need to pass an exam that’s recognized by the state that they work in. To learn more about the licensing requirements in your state, visit the National Board for Certified Counselors website.

Substance abuse counselors who don’t work in a private practice also need to be certified, but a specific level of education is not always required. All counselors must pass an exam, however. You should contact your state’s licensing board to learn about the exact requirements for certification where you live.

On the job training is normally required for substance abuse counselors who have only a high school diploma. This training can be very extensive, and covers how to interact with people who have addictions, and how to respond to emergency situations.

Employment Outlook

There are currently substance abuse counselors in the United States, with new substance abuse counselor job openings created each year.

Substance Abuse Counselor jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.

Overall Salaries

Substance Abuse Counselor salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most substance abuse counselors make between per year, or per hour.

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Adil Khan

Adil Khan is freelance writer and a Computer Engineer by profession. He started writing articles for CareerThoughts.com in 2016. He writes a opinion column for a local newspaper.

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