12 Core Functions of a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors are judged on their competency in what is called the 12 Core Functions.  These specific functions were developed as the critical criteria for addiction counselors through a form of meta-research.  By looking at the competencies educators and overseeing professionals in the field expect of a chemical dependency worker, the twelve items were identified and combined into a guide that we can all follow to improve and make sure we are up to par.

Along with what is called the TAP 21, the 12 Core Functions are the most widely accepted standards for substance abuse counselors.  More licensure examinations and certification boards follow these criteria than any other, including the TAP 21, in the United States.  Regardless if your state or university is following one or the other, these are well worth knowing and being familiar with if you intend to have a successful career in the field.  Classes, tests, and continuing education will all expect a knowledge of these.  So what are they then?

The 12 Core Functions of a Substance Abuse Counselor

The 12 Core Functions of a substance abuse counselor are as listed below:

  • 12 core functionsScreening
  • Intake
  • Orientation
  • Assessment
  • Treatment Planning
  • Counseling
  • Case Management
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Client Education
  • Referral
  • Reports and Record keeping
  • Consultation with Other Professionals

Read these carefully and you will see that no aspect of an addiction counseling career is left unaccounted for within them.

Guidance and Accountability

The entire purpose for designing these core competencies is to not only act as a framework for guidance but to also hold counselor accountable.  Once trained in these core functions and exposed to them time and again in their professional careers, there is no excuse for not being fully capable.  To measure a counselor against them is to measure a counselor’s abilities to perform his or her task appropriately and effectively.

The First Four – Assessment and Intake

The first four functions are designed to determine whether or not a new client’s situation is appropriate for the particulars of a specific program.  This means to ensure they are treated using the correct and most-efficient treatment modality.  Once the client is allocated to the correct program, their needs are assessed, and have been admitted, then we begin to talk about numbers five through seven of the core functions.

Five Through Nine – Treatment Plan

The fifth through eighth functions deal with the daily application of counseling towards the patient’s treatment program.  Following these guidelines should ensure that the client, if not completely resistant, will progress through his or her treatment splendidly.  Crisis intervention guides us through any of the hiccups that may occur, including but not limited to self-harm attempts, arrest, relapse, and any major interruptions in their life and treatment.  The ninth function arms them with the weapons and armor they will need to remain sober, which is client education.

Ten Through 12 – Professional Interaction

Perhaps all is not going as planned.  This can happen and be nobody’s fault.  Life is complex and can’t always be squeezed into a neat set of guidelines.  That’s when the tenth function comes into play in which the client is referred to another facility or counselor that is better equipped or has a unique angle to tackle the problem from.

If one is to refer the client elsewhere or not, keeping proper reports and records that summarize the progress and hurdles of treatment must be maintained.  We simply can’t remember every detail and especially can’t report them to another counselor by memory after a year.  Passing on progress notes, treatment plan updates, and discharge summaries is a must.  It also decreases liability for the healthcare professional, which is a must.  If the law becomes involved, they may subpoena the charts.  If you refer a client, you must pass on the charts.  It is also relevant for your review.  Proper charting and record keeping must happen or you’ve failed your job.

The final and twelfth core function simply refers to the relationship between you and other therapy professionals.  You must know what’s going on with the other counselors who interact with the patient, any medical conditions, any legal trouble that the parole officer might be able to keep you aware of, etc.  You may simply provide an hour a day of therapy in a residential setting, so you need to know what the direct-care staff are observing when you aren’t around.  Remember though, if you are to consult anyone beyond your own program, you must obtain a signature before the information can be released or you’ll have violated many laws, including those of HIPPA.


The 12 Core Functions of addiction treatment are critical for you to follow.  You cannot stray.  As a matter of fact, to maintain your licensure, you will likely be made to take a course on the functions once a year.  So get to studying!

One Response to 12 Core Functions of a Substance Abuse Counselor

  1. Is there any additional indepth information pretaining to the 12 core functions

    Lynwood Murphy August 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm Reply

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