Addictions counselors work with patients suffering from substance abuse problems and other addictions such as gambling. Addictions counselors develop recovery programs and coping strategies to avoid relapses. In addition to counseling addicts, they may conduct sessions with family members and friends. In serious cases, they may refer a patient to a psychiatrist or other medical professional. Substance abuse counselors provide support and treatment to people who are suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. They also provide counseling to friends and families of addicts whose lives are negatively impacted by drug or alcohol abuse.
Though there are many best practices that substance abuse counselors follow, each client has to be treated differently. The roots of addiction vary from person to person, and substance abuse counselors need to take a personal and empathetic approach to each case they handle.
Some substance abuse counselors work with their clients on a one on one basis, while others work with many clients at once in group sessions. Though the majority of their time is spent helping people cope with their life's stresses and encouraging a sober lifestyle, they also provide other types of support as well.
Many times, counselors help their clients improve their personal relationships, particularly with their family members and close friends. Because so much damage can be done to these relationships during periods of heavy addiction, this process can be difficult. However, it is essential to creating a good support system. Counselors also help their clients find employment, and may work towards rebuilding their professional relationships as well.
Substance abuse counselors are not able to prescribe medicine or provide therapy, so they work very closely with other health and mental health professionals including registered nurses, physicians, social workers, and psychiatrists. These professionals are needed to help diagnose and treat disorders that their clients are suffering from.
Some counselors specialize in working with particular types of people. For example, one counselor may work exclusively with veterans, while another may only work with teenagers. Others work only with people who have reached a point of crisis, and are putting their lives in danger by continuing to use.
Certificate and associate's degree programs include foundational coursework in addictive behaviors and treatments. Some courses may be directed toward children and families or specific addictions such as alcohol. Students at the bachelor's degree level may consider addiction studies, psychology, behavioral science or related majors. These curricula offer coursework relevant to addictions counseling, including decision making, human development, applied statistics and social psychology.
Master's degree programs in substance abuse and addiction counseling are available, and some clinical psychology and mental health counseling programs may also offer an addictions counseling concentration. Graduate-level curricula include advanced topics in the diagnosis and treatment of addicts. Students may be required to complete a research project prior to graduating.
Substance abuse counselors who don't work in a private practice also need to be certified, but a specific level of education is not always required. All counselors must pass an exam, however. You should contact your state's licensing board to learn about the exact requirements for certification where you live.
On the job training is normally required for substance abuse counselors who have only a high school diploma. This training can be very extensive, and covers how to interact with people who have addictions, and how to respond to emergency situations.
The Association for Addiction Professionals, formerly the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, offers several certifications in the field (www.naadac.org). As individuals gain more education and experience, they qualify for advanced-level certifications. The first credential offered is the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level 1, which requires a state license and either three years or 6,000 hours of experience.
The National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) credentials (www.nbcc.org). Individuals interested in earning a MAC credential must first hold the NCC. Each of these credentials requires a master's degree, experience and a passing score on a certifying exam.