What is a Substance Abuse or Addiction Counselor?

Compassion and deep empathy are two of the most important traits needed when considering a career in substance abuse or addiction counselor. A substance abuse or addiction counselor helps individuals with addiction problems. This includes alcohol or drugs addiction; addictions counselors help get to the underlying issues that make their patients turn to substance abuse.


Addiction Counseling Overview

The United States labor department statistics predicts, based on estimates of the number of Americans who abuse drugs that finding a job as an abuse counselor remains very high; and will continue to remain high for many years to come.

By choosing to enter a career in addiction counseling, you are choosing to make a difference in someone’s life. This career can be very personally rewarding, and in effect, drastically alter the path of someone’s life in a positive manner. You will be providing support and encouragement to an individual who wants to achieve a specific goal – a goal of a clean and healthy life. The reason for this is simple, they cannot achieve that goal on their own.


The History of Substance Abuse in America

Substance abuse in America has a very detailed and often disturbing history. Many attribute addiction and substance abuse as a 20th century disease, when in reality goes back much farther.

Drug addiction in America dates back to the pilgrims. Much of the problem stemmed from people who looked for ways to escape the daily grind with mind altering substances; unfortunately, greed and money played a huge part in getting individuals addicted to these substances. There was a time when cocaine was actually legal, and many were unaware of the lasting effects the drug could have. Opium, the main ingredient in heroine was also a huge problem.

Today however, the medical community, as well as the government understand full well, how drugs can seriously affect our society. In the past we had the “free enterprise” of drugs, meaning many could purchase just about anything they wanted. This is one of the main reasons the government formed the Pure Food and Drug ACT1.


Educational Requirements for Substance Abuse or Addiction Counselor

Pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling will mean a certain level of education is needed. The licensing involved will vary from state to state. However, if you want more information on particular states, you can visit the American Counseling Association.


There are a few guidelines to follow if you want to become a Substance Abuse or Addiction Counselor:


Guideline #1:

During your time in college, pick-up a course or two in sociology or psychology. There really isn’t a specific degree available to become an addictions counselor. However, learning about the mental effects, as well as the physical ones of addiction will give you a leg up when applying for license as a professional.


Guideline #2:

Become a volunteer and get your hands dirty so to speak. Check out a local rehabilitation and addiction treatment center. Gaining some experience before hand, will once again help you in the long run. By volunteering your time, you will have the unique chance of making sure this is a career you want.


Guideline #3:

Prepare yourself for a stressful job. Really think about this; are you just in it for the money? Or do you have a deep empathetic or compassionate reason to continue? It won’t be as easy as you might think. Dealing with people is stressful enough, and now you will be dealing with people who have serious addiction problems, who are looking at you to help them.


Guideline #4:

Make sure to chat with someone at the Certification Board for Addiction Professionals in your state. Most states will ask for a certain amount of hours worked before taking a written exam to become certified.


Helpful Steps

  • Be sure to check the licensing requirements in your state
  • Or pick a state you wish to work in, and check the requirements there
  • Pick a college program that will satisfy the licensing requirement in your chose state
  • Get a bachelors degree in a relevant field, such as nursing, psychology, rehabilitation services, social work, etc.
  • Pursue a Master's Degree
  • Complete post graduate training
  • Get certification from a professional organization


Remember, choosing a career in substance abuse counseling is a very rewarding job. However, it’s important to understand that a certain level of compassion and empathy is needed in order to be really successful. There has to be a strong passion deep within you in order to truly succeed in this career.