How Do I Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

If you consider yourself a “people person,” you may wonder how to become a substance abuse counselor. Substance abuse counselors, also called addiction counselors, help people who are struggling with addictions to substances like alcohol, recreational drugs and prescription medications.

A substance abuse counselor assists clients struggling with addiction by setting goals and tracking progress. Part of the process of creating treatment plans is recognizing obstacles that interfere with recovery, including behaviors and situations that encourage the client to return to substance abuse. Substance abuse counselors provide emotional support for clients and their families. To assist clients that are dealing with addictions, substance abuse counselors teach clients healthy ways to cope with the life problems that can lead to substance abuse.

Substance abuse counselors educate clients and families about the most effective treatment options. In addition to one-on-one therapy, they may recommend group therapy sessions and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. By teaching clients the skills to improve relationships, substance abuse counselors can help clients attempt to repair damage to their social and professional lives.

Addiction counselors often work in hospitals, prisons, halfway houses, employee assistance programs and residential or outpatient substance abuse facilities. A substance abuse counselor may also open a private practice. In any work environment, substance abuse counselors should be able to work with other types of mental and physical healthcare providers when necessary so that clients have the support they need. Addiction counselors may work with a wide variety of clients, or they may specialize. Some substance abuse counselors work only with disabled substance users, teenagers, or veterans.

To improve your career prospects as a substance abuse counselor, you should consider investing in your education. While some jobs in the field of substance abuse counseling may be available to candidates who possess only high school diplomas, their opportunities are limited. By earning a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling, psychology or a related field, aspiring substance abuse counselors enhance their career options. Earning a master’s degree allows substance abuse counselors to open private practices. Regardless of your level of education, learn what license and certification requirements exist in your state. Some states require substance abuse counselors to complete continuing education programs or take exams on a yearly basis to maintain a license or certification in good standing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that substance abuse counselors earn a median salary of $38,120, which is higher than the $33,840 median annual wage of all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 27 percent rate of job growth by 2020, much higher than the 14 percent growth rate expected for all occupations. Substance abuse counselors also get the job satisfaction of helping struggling individuals get their lives back on track. If you have the compassion, patience and listening skills to assist substance abuse clients in improving their lives, learning how to become a substance abuse counselor may be the start of a rewarding new career.

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