Substance Abuse Counselor Job Description

Working as a substance abuse counselor requires patience, dedication, and a desire to help people in crisis. The job entails providing confidential counseling and support to addicts and their families. Counseling may be in group settings or individual settings with the goal of encouraging a healthy, addiction-free lifestyle for each client.

Substance abuse counselors are also expected to work with community services and resources to find ongoing support, safe places to live, jobs, and other support for clients.

Primary Responsibilities for Substance Abuse Counselors

  • Drug and alcohol counseling and support to individual clients and their families
  • Discover the underlying cause of addiction
  • Understand and advise addicts and alcoholics on how drugs or alcohol affects special health considerations such as pregnancy, mental health conditions, or chronic health issues like diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Stay informed and in touch with community resources and support groups
  • Provide information and promotional materials
  • Educate family or friend caregivers on how to help addicts stay on track
  • Work with other health professionals to create an individual treatment plan
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of treatment programs
  • Monitor client progress
  • Be aware of the signs of recidivism
  • Keep detailed notes on patient interaction
  • Maintain strict confidentiality

Substance Abuse Counselor Education Requirements

substance abuse counselor job descriptionEducation for a position as a substance abuse counselor varies from state to state and with different positions. Some counselors work only in a group setting and need just a high school diploma and some on-the-job training. Personal experience with beating addiction can be very valuable. Experience lends credibility and helps the counselor establish a rapport and trust relationship with the clients.

Higher level positions typically require a Master’s degree and many hours of clinical experience. The pay scale is naturally far higher with additional education and experience. Most states require a board licensing exam before entering private practice. Any information telling you how to become a substance abuse counselor should encourage you to obtain a Master’s degree for the large pay discrepancy.

Knowledge and Skills

  1. Developing a comprehensive understanding of the causes and effects of drug and alcohol abuse on individuals and their families is crucial to substance abuse counselor jobs. Family dynamics frequently come into play. To get an addict back to a functional life, counselors will need to address the damage done to family relationships and help the family heal.
  2. Counselors need to be able to assess health risks and client needs. Addicts have diverse needs. Many have underlying mental health issues that led to the addiction. Some may have health problems due to poor nutrition, the addiction itself, or other factors. Diseases like emphysema, diabetes, or liver disease are common. In addition, the addict may have anger issues, depression, or anxiety.
  3. Crisis management is a critical skill. Counselors may find themselves dealing with unpredictable or unstable behavior, inappropriate emotions, or suicidal impulses.
  4. Counseling and treatment methods for groups and individuals. The 12-step method is effective and popular, but not appropriate for every client. In some cases, a different approach will work better. Counselors need to be familiar with different methods.
  5. Case management and record keeping. Computer skills and fast typing save time and energy.
  6. Since counselors may be involved in confrontations with clients, conflict resolution and negotiations skills are necessary.
  7. Listening and communications skills. Counselors need the ability to listen to clients who may have trouble communicating or may be uneducated, confused or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Listening is the first step to client assessment.

Personal Attributes That Help Perform the Job

Substance abuse counselors deal with extreme emotions of their clients, including frustrations, sadness and depression. It can be emotionally draining. The most effective counselors can be compassionate and understanding without being affected by the lives and circumstances of their clients. No matter what happens, they must remain objective and professional at all times.

In their jobs, counselors are called upon to interact with people from all walks of life, from homeless to wealthy. Addiction is not restricted to economic class, race, or ethnicity. Anyone can become addicted. Respect for different cultures and religions are important, as is treating each client with respect and dignity.

Understanding and patience are also important to being a good counselor. Beating addiction is a long, hard process and backsliding is common. Counselors have to help addicts who start using again, and help them develop alternative strategies to cope with addiction triggers.

The workload for substance abuse counselor jobs can be very demanding. Meticulous attention to detail helps counselors juggle client needs and keep up with tasks.

Job Description: The End Goal

Clients come to counseling broken and hurt. They are often sent to treatment by a judge, and sometimes deny they have a problem. The end goal is to restore a functional life for the client: addiction-free, gainful employment, a place to live, and healthy interpersonal relationships. In short, Substance abuse counselors give addicts another chance at life.

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