Substance abuse counselors, also know as addiction counselors, play a huge role in the lives of people with substance abuse problems. Their clients may be in trouble with the law and court-ordered to attend counseling, or they may have reached a point in their lives where they know they need help.
It’s a daunting job to bring people back from addiction. The job requires compassion, communications skills, patience, and inner strength.
Working directly with patients is a big part of the daily job. Developing counselor-patient relationships play a key role in the patient’s progress. Success relies heavily on gaining the patient’s trust.
Addiction counselors often work as part of a team with other professionals in related fields, such as psychiatrists, social workers, doctors, and nurses.
The primary goal of the drug counselor’s job is to get the client back on his feet by helping them:
Evaluating patient physical and mental health, identifying the cause of addiction, and treating the addiction is all part of the job. Counselors may also work with family members to gather information and explore the underlying cause of addiction to create a treatment plan. They may educate the client’s family about the cause of addiction and help them develop strategies to cope with and support the addiction recovery.
For some counselors, another part of the recovery process is helping clients find jobs and other resources. Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.), for example, support ongoing recovery and remind addicts that they are not alone. Treating addiction can be a long process for both counselors and clients. Volunteer support groups are free to attend and can be found all over the U.S. and in other countries.
Most substance abuse counselors work in medical or social services facilities like hospitals, mental health clinics, prisons, and rehab centers. They may work in a group setting with addicts, or one-on-one, or both.
Some addiction counselors work in a private practice, alone or with a small group of other counselors. Private practice must be run like a business, so counselors may have additional responsibilities. Part of the job may include working with insurance companies to collect payments. To bring in new clients, they may be required to promote and market their trade.
Many group addiction counselors use the religion-based 12-step program to help the road to recovery. Teaching addicts how to deal with problems and stress helps them get back to a drug-free life. Rebuilding professional and personal relationships that were destroyed over an addiction is important for clients to to restart their lives. The 12-step program includes addressing past behaviors and reconnecting with people from the past the addict has wronged.
However, programs that depend on religion are not for everyone. Secular methods of treatment and group meetings are available for addicts uncomfortable with treatment based on religion.
Many addiction counselors deal strictly with clients who have been court-ordered to addiction counseling. Some work specifically with teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. When an addict endangers their own life, they work with counselors who specialize in crisis intervention. The underlying cause of addiction is often depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, or some other mental issue. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol because they cannot cope with the stresses of their own lives.
There are counselors who specialize in non-crisis interventions as well. Family and friends worried about someone with a drug addiction are usually the ones who set up non crisis interventions to try and get an addict back on the right track.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics(BLS) the substance abuse counselor jobs pay an average of $38,120 per year. Most people start with an annual salary of about $27,000. As they gain experience with time, yearly income can increase to $52,000 or more. Highly educated professionals working in private practice typically make far more money than average.
Job prospects in this field are much better than average, possibly due to a trend toward court-ordered drug treatment plans as an alternative to prison for addicts. It should be relatively easy to find a substance abuse counselor job with the right qualifications.
Due to unreasonably large workloads, the job can be very stressful for addiction counselors in government positions. Meeting the demand for their services can be difficult. They do not always have enough resources available.
Some clients have other problems, including mental and other health issues and homelessness. It can be difficult to stay objective about long-term clients, especially when they slip back into addiction. Working with agitated or angry clients can cause crisis situations, making the work environment tense and occasionally frightening.
Depending on state requirements and the job itself, drug abuse counselors may need education ranging from a high school diploma to a Master’s degree. Higher education levels increase both opportunities and pay scale. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling, the first step is to check requirements in your state.
Group counselors with only a basic education typically get on-the-job training and are often recovering addicts themselves. Personal experience in overcoming addiction is a powerful teaching tool.
A license is required to open a private clinic in every state. Qualifying for a license requires a master’s degree plus 2,000-3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Aspiring counselors must pass a licensing exam in the state their practice will be located.
There are about 23 million people struggling with addiction in the U.S. Substance abuse counselor jobs will be plentiful in the coming decade. If you’re the type of person who wants to help others and you’re strong enough to withstand the stress of dealing with your client’s emotions and your own, it might be the right career for you.