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Become a Substance Abuse Counselor: Giving Addiction a Purpose

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If you’ve gone through your treatment journey for alcohol addiction or drug addiction, you probably already understand the value and importance of working with a qualified substance abuse counselor. A counselor is someone who helps you on your path to overcoming addiction. They make a significant impact on your life during and after your treatment program. 

As you navigate your new life of sobriety, you might be looking for a way to add purpose and help others through their treatment and recovery. As part of that purpose, you could pursue a career in substance abuse treatment. 

If you’re wondering how to become a substance abuse counselor to help other people struggling with addictive behaviors, the following are some of the things you need to know to make this a reality.

What Does An Addiction Counselor Do?

A counselor works with clients, perhaps broadly, or maybe you’ll decide you want to specialize in a particular population. Special populations in addiction treatment could mean veterans or teens, just for example.

Your role is to listen to your clients as they describe their lives and the problems they feel associated with their addictive behaviors. 

Counselors work with clients to help them identify ways to cope and avoid destructive behaviors. You may go over relapse prevention methods to help lead them into recovery, such as 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Specific things you might do as a counselor for people dealing with substance abuse and mental health disorders include:

  • Meeting with clients regularly or in crises to help evaluate their substance use problems and other health problems
  • Begin to identify issues specific to them, including co-occurring disorders
  • Creating goals and beginning treatment planning
  • Working with the client to teach coping methods
  • Helping your client rebuild their existing career or find a job
  • Leading group therapy sessions
  • If relevant, you could be responsible for providing updates to the criminal justice system
  • Providing referrals to support groups for your clients, such as a 12-step program 
  • Creating aftercare plans
  • Offering guidance and support to family members and loved ones of your clients and facilitating family therapy
  • Completing insurance-related paperwork in many cases and also keeping cases updated

As a licensed counselor in drug abuse and treatment, your most prominent role will be working with your clients to create and implement treatment plans. 

Mental health professionals work in different settings. These settings may include working at a rehab center, a clinic, or a hospital. You might also work in private practice.

Counselors offer a wide variety of support, treatment, and counseling for clients with addictions and other co-occurring disorders.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Good Addiction Counselor?

Helping someone learn how to overcome addiction and addictive behaviors is an important role. There are some education-based skills that you need to learn through an education and certification program. There are also soft skills you need to have.

Understand every individual is different. You have to treat each person on a case-by-case basis.

  • You should be client and passionate about helping other people.
  • People with substance use disorders often have other co-occurring conditions or a history of trauma they attempt to self-medicate. You should be client with them as a result and know that they can initially be skeptical of you and the role you’ll play in their life.
  • Substance abuse counselors are empathetic. If you are in recovery yourself, this will go a long way in helping you truly understand what your clients are going through.
  • You’ll work as part of a collaborative team. Addiction is a complex disease. You may create and implement treatment plans with psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, social workers, and therapists.

Why Do People In Recovery Make Good Substance Abuse Counselors?

If you’re in recovery, you may be especially well-suited to becoming an addiction counselor. You’ve been where your clients are. You understand what it’s like to struggle with addiction and the fear that treatment can bring. Helping your clients learn how to overcome addiction is something you’ve already gone through.

Specific ways that being in recovery yourself can make you a good counselor include:

  • You have personal experience. You have been in the same position as the people you are going to work with. Your experience helps you understand the effects of addiction and how it feels in those early days of treatment and recovery. Often, someone with a substance use disorder would prefer to work with someone who understands what they’re going through first-hand instead of someone who doesn’t.
  • Your experiences give you more credibility in the eyes of your clients. There is often a feeling that people struggling with addiction have that no one understands them. When you share experiences with them, that can break down some of their barriers and help their treatment plan be more effective.
  • You are more empathetic to the struggles of your clients. Empathy allows you to understand their many mixed feelings, such as anger and fear.
  • For you, there are many benefits to a career as a counselor. A job in addiction treatment will be rewarding and help you find a new sense of purpose as you transition into your life in recovery. As a counselor, you can also stay very connected to your recovery.
  • You’ll be motivational to your clients. Clients can look to you and see that recovery is possible, and you’re an example of that.

How Do You Become an Substance Abuse Counselor?

The required educational credentials for substance abuse counselors can vary, mainly depending on the setting where you want to work. You may need a master’s degree in social work or a counseling degree, but not every state requires this. If you do have a degree, you will find more job opportunities.

If you plan to operate a private practice, you’ll need your master’s degree and complete thousands of clinical experience hours. You’ll also have to pass an exam after getting a degree in addiction counseling. Licensing requirements vary depending on your state. 

You may decide to begin working in a treatment facility in a different role as you simultaneously complete the education requirements to become a counselor. 

When you go through treatment and recovery and deal with your drug or alcohol issues, you have something special that can translate into an incredible career. When you help people and feel fulfilled in your career, you stay connected to the sober community, and you’re going to bring a unique perspective to each of your clients’ lives and treatment plans.

The First Step in Becoming a Substance Abuse Counsler in Santa Ana

Overcoming addiction is the first step to helping others with substance abuse. Being a substance abuse counselor is a very rewarding career; it is the best way to use your experience to help other people going through the same issues. No matter what stage of addiction you’re at, let Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Santa Ana, CA help by calling 949-426-7962. We’ve helped a long list of people overcome their struggles and get on the path to being substance abuse counselors; many of our own counselors may have been in a similar situation you are in. Get more information on our admissions process today.

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