Substance Abuse Counselor Career

What Is Substance Abuse Counseling?

Imagine yourself sitting on a busy park bench. Now, imagine yourself watching all of the people walking by. Chances are many of those people are dealing with a substance abuse problem, whether they know it or not. Research has shown that millions of people suffer from substance abuse each year. In fact, it is one of the most common problems in America.

Substance abuse refers to the habitual use of a mind altering substance, whether it’s alcohol or drugs. Although most substance abusers may find that they are seemingly blessed with a number of positive side effects of these substances, the reality is that these substances are ultimately very harmful. For instance, these substances not only harm a person’s body, but they can also fracture their soul.

Abusing substances such as alcohol or drugs will often inflict a person’s mind as well. A person suffering from substance abuse will usually not act like himself. For instance, a person that is normally mild tempered could possibly become violent under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why a person might abuse alcohol or drugs, and some of these reasons may be extremely powerful. Some may abuse drugs or alcohol because they are looking for a way to escape from their realities, for instance. Others may abuse alcohol or drugs because they’re trying to fit in with their peers. Unfortunately, no matter why people experiment with drugs or alcohol, there is a chance that they will become dependent upon them.

Substance abuse counseling, however, is a type of counseling that can be used to help people overcome and conquer dependencies on substances, such as alcohol and drugs.

Today, dealing with substance abuse is more important than ever. There are more and more drugs being created each and every day, not just in large cities, but also in smaller outlying suburbs. The boundaries of substance abuse have been dissolved, and no one is safe from its negative effects.

Spotlight Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Program

How Do I Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

There are several educational paths that lead to rewarding careers within the field of Substance Abuse Counseling. Like most career fields, there is a correlation between the amount of education and training you accumulate, and the salary, autonomy and job responsibilities you will have once you start working. A Bachelor's Degree, earned at the college or university level, is typically the first step for students who wish to acquire the skills and certification needed to counsel individuals with substance abuse problems. The most common major for students pursing substance abuse counseling is in Alcohol & Drug Abuse Studies or Addictions Counseling. After students build a strong foundation in counseling and the behavioral sciences (with a bachelor's degree) they have an opportunity to focus their academic pursuits on a more specialized area of study. Completing graduate level coursework with a Master's Degree, or a Doctorate (PhD) degree will provide students with the knowledge and skills required to become a licensed counselor and to work in private practice if they so desire.

Certificate programs in Substance Abuse Counseling, Addiction Counseling or Drug & Alcohol Abuse Studies are also available to students and professionals who have either completed a major in a related field or who are currently pursuing their degree in the behavioral sciences, therapy or counseling. Certificate programs often meet the training and education requirements to become certified by the State Department of Health, but it is recommended that you verify the eligibility requirements of the state before enrolling in a program.

Why Do We Need Substance Abuse Counselors?

No one can deny that substance abuse, in all of its forms, is a growing problem. Individuals that suffer from substance abuse often suffer from a number of physical problems as well. Most addictive substances contribute to illnesses and the general breakdown of the human body.

Substance abuse doesn’t just affect the people it inflicts, however. Everyone around the abuser is also usually affected as well. For instance, a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs will often exhibit behavioral changes. They may not “be themselves”. They may become irritable or violent, for example, or just “spaced out”. many times, substance abuse contributes to such problems as joblessness, homelessness, financial problems, family discord, and criminal activity.

Substance abuse counselors can help prevent these problems, by leading people away from substance abuse. Professionals in this field can help people overcome their addictions and start living a healthier life, complete with better choices.

What Do Substance Abuse Counselors Do?

”How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

Despite the corny joke, there is a lot of truth to this statement. In short, a person has to truly want to change the way they are before they can actually be changed. This is particularly true for substance abusers.

Substance abuse counselors must make sure that their clients truly want to stop their patterns of substance abuse before starting any type of counseling or therapy. Otherwise, both the substance abuser and the counselor will have accomplished nothing more than wasting time. Most of the time, afflicted individuals seek the help of substance abuse counselors when they are ready. Other times, though, they may be forced to see counselors, either by loved ones or the law. A substance abuse counselor may be asked to help a family with an intervention, for instance, where a person’s loved ones confront him about the negative effects of his substance abuse. This type of counseling might also be a stipulation of a person’s prison stay, probation, or parole.

In order to create a counseling plan for a client, a substance abuse counselor will first try to determine the type and severity of a person’s substance abuse. This is usually done by interviewing the client and encouraging him to be completely honest about his actions. Certain physical and behavioral actions might also give substance abuse counselors some idea of what they are dealing with.

A substance abuse counselor will also usually help his clients identify their “triggers”, which are certain situations that make people want to drink alcohol or do drugs. Triggers are often different for everyone, and what triggers one person may not trigger another. Some people might drink or do drugs more when they are stressed, while others might drink or do drugs more when they are around a certain crowd of people.

Once a substance abuser and his counselor can pinpoint these triggers, they can both work on ways to avoid them. By avoiding these triggers, substance abusers can start taking the first steps toward recovery.

During the recovery process, a substance abuse counselor will typically offer encouragement and guidance. He will also usually help a substance abuser set up a support network, consisting of caring individuals that will help the substance abuser work toward recovery. Counselors may also help substance abusers repair existing relationships as much as possible, if necessary.

Where Do Substance Abuse Counselors Work?

Substance abuse counselors will often work in hospitals and substance abuse rehabilitation centers, along with detention centers, schools, and social and human service facilities.

Some substance abuse counselors might also choose to open their own private practices as well.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Substance Abuse Counseling Career?

 Counseling Educational Track
Education RequirementsEducation LengthAvailable Programs
Undergraduate StudiesEarn a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling4 YearsOnline or Campus
Graduate StudiesEarn a Master's Degree in Counseling5-6 YearsOnline or Campus
PhD / Doctoral StudiesEarn a Doctorate in Counseling 7-8 YearsOnline or Campus

In some areas, you may be able to take a certificate course to start your substance abuse counseling career. The best way to start working toward a substance abuse counseling career, however, is by completing a bachelor’s degree program in psychology or counseling. While working toward this degree, it is usually recommended that you take several courses on substance abuse and recovery.

In order to become a certified or licensed substance abuse counselor, though, you will also most likely need to earn a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling, and complete several hours of supervised training in a clinical setting.

What Is the Average Salary for a Substance Abuse Counselor?

In 2011, the median annual salary for substance abuse counselors was reported as $38,560 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2014, national estimates for this occupation increased to $41,870. Individuals who complete graduate level coursework and hold a Master's or Doctorate level degree often report higher salaries while employed in both the public and private sector. It is estimated that the top 10% of professionals employed in this field earn an annual wage of $61,420. Anecdotal statistics provided by independent sources indicate that professionals with a successful private practice are able to generate incomes in the six figures. The most common factor influencing earning potential in this field, aside from education level, is location. Salaries in metropolitan areas of high population density typically outperform those in less populated rural locations.