What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Most substance abuse counselors work with a wide array of clients, although some choose to specialize in specific groups of people like veterans, prisoners, or teens. Being a counselor means listening to clients, evaluating their problems, and advising them on how to cope. Counselors also monitor their clients’ progress and watch for signs of relapse.

Every patient is different. Some will be in dire straits. As a counselor, you may have to help homeless people, women in abusive relationships, or addicts on the verge of suicide. Others will come in with minor problems, no health or mental problems, and a strong family support group.

Part of your job will be to treat each client with fairness, respect, and lack of prejudice or bias. You’ll meet with people of different levels of education, ethic or cultural backgrounds, and all walks of life. Even rich and famous people can become addicts. If you watch the news, you already know about the struggles of politicians, stars, and other highly visible people.

What Kind of Person is Best for the Job?

Substance abuse counseling is a demanding and often thankless job with some giant personal satisfaction rewards that come with helping someone rebuild his life. Some common personality traits of successful counselors include:

  • Patience – addicts often relapse. Counselors are required to take it in stride and find new ways to help clients deal with their problems without resorting to drugs or alcohol.
  • Compassion – addiction recovery is difficult. Compassion for sufferers is an important personality trait.
  • Problem-Solving – since every addict is different, finding a workable treatment plan may require creativity.
  • Dedication – you can’t give up. Addiction recovery is a long process.
  • Communication – listening, talking, and writing skills.
  • Trustworthiness – confidentiality is key.

These are not necessarily requirements to be addiction counselors, but they will be your weapons and armor in defeating the enemy that is drug abuse.

What Do Substance Abuse Counselors Do?

So then, what is the job description of a substance abuse counselor?  Primarily, they evaluate addicts and work with them and their families to create an individual treatment plan. Responsibilities include helping addicts find a safe home, repair family  relationships that have been broken by destructive behavior, and find community support resources and treatment methods that work.

Addiction has a profound effect on family, friends, and work relationships. Addicts often lose their jobs and wreck their personal relationships, leaving them with no financial or emotional support. Counselors help them get back on track by addressing the destructive behaviors caused by the addiction and talking to the client’s family about ways to cope and help.

Evaluation skills are critical. Drug addiction may be only a small part of the picture. Addicts may also have major health issues, like heart disease, depression, anxiety, or chronic pain that trigger the desire to self-medicate. Counseling includes asking the right questions to uncover the causes of addiction. Identifying addiction triggers helps counselors devise effective coping strategies.

Counseling requires very careful record keeping. Counselors make notes on sessions and recommendations, track client progress, and write reports about such things as issues, treatments, and behavioral issues. They keep an up-to-date contacts database with patient and family information, community services and programs, and other helpful resources.

Licensed substance abuse counselors in private practice may write promotional or educational materials, and may write scholarly articles for publication. Private practice counselors may also be responsible for the administrative duties associated with running a  business, like budgeting, marketing, and bookkeeping.

Where Do Addiction Counselors Work?

Substance abuse counselors work in a wide variety of settings such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Residential treatment centers
  • Mental health clinics
  • Substance abuse clinics
  • Prisons
  • Government-funded social service facilities
  • Schools
  • Halfway houses
  • Private practice

Substance Abuse Methods and Treatment

what is a substance abuse counselorSome counselors follow a similar regime as Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) or Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). They run group meetings where addicts can come for support and encouragement, tell their stories and hear stories told by others, and learn that they are not alone in their struggles. These programs are often based on a religious 12-step program.

While programs not based in religion are less well known, they are usually possible to find. Secular Organizations for Sobriety, for example, has at least one group in every state, and many groups in some states.

It’s important for a counselor to know different methods of treatment and be familiar with local groups, since clients may not be Christian, may not believe in God, or may simply not be comfortable in a religion-based treatment program.

Because addictions have so many dimensions and disrupt so many aspects of individual and family life, there is no single answer for effective treatment. Most programs incorporate approaches to different problems caused by addiction, health, lifestyle, and drug withdrawal. By taking a holistic approach to addiction, counselors have a better chance of helping their clients remain drug- and alcohol-free.

Substance abuse counselors are busy professionals who often have a heavy caseload and an overloaded schedule. The rewards are few, but the successes, helping people get back to a normal, productive life, can make the job worthwhile.

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