The first thing you need to know about substance abuse counseling is that there is an increasing addiction problem in the United States, and, as a result, an increasing need for substance abuse counselors. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 40.3 million people who are 12 or older have a substance use disorder (SUD), which comprises a whopping 14.5% of that population. Many of these individuals also have mental health issues. However, nearly half of adults with a SUD and AMI (any mental issue) failed to receive treatment in 2020. Perhaps that is why the Bureau for Labor Statistics projects a 22% growth rate for counselors through 2031, or about 43,600 openings for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors each year.
Your compassion and concern for individuals suffering from addiction can be harnessed into a career as a substance abuse counselor to help address this growing, debilitating, and heartbreaking problem within our country. So, let’s explore how to become an addiction counselor.
What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?
We must first answer the question - what is a substance abuse counselor? Substance abuse counselors work with those who suffer from addiction - whether it be to alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, gambling, pornography, video games, or even food – usually as certified addiction professionals. By delving into a client’s past and present substance use, issues that may have led to the substance use, and the current state of the problem, substance abuse counselors then explore treatment options and develop a personalized plan for overcoming the addiction so the client can go on to live a productive, healthy life.
What Do Substance Abuse Counselors Do?
Substance abuse counselors are professionally trained individuals who treat substance abuse and behavioral disorders by assessing the nature of the problem, identifying/recommending treatment options, providing coping mechanisms, and offering supportive care to restore stability and balance in the lives of those suffering from addiction.
This may involve conducting individual or group counseling; developing a plan for avoiding people, places, and situations that may jeopardize recovery; working with the client’s family members, social workers, and mental health professionals to coordinate treatment; and determining the need for out-patient or in-patient treatment.
More specifically, if you are thinking about becoming an addiction counselor, you’ll discover some of the following functions are common to the role:
- Evaluating a client’s mental and physical health
- Identifying behaviors and thought patterns that exacerbate or serve as a trigger for a client’s substance abuse
- Assessing a client’s willingness and commitment to recovery
- Determining a rehabilitative action plan, which may involve a 12-step recovery program, ongoing counseling, and/or admittance to a treatment facility
- Providing individual counseling and/or leading group therapy sessions
- Intervening during client crises
- Maintaining documentation on a client’s progress toward reaching treatment goals
- Coordinating with other service providers, such as mental health professionals, human services personnel, support groups, or treatment facility staff, to provide comprehensive care
- Making referrals to additional community or care resources
- Educating family members regarding the addiction and recovery process and helping them work through the effects of a client’s substance abuse
- Managing a robust caseload
Where Do Substance Abuse Counselors Work?
Depending on their level of education and experience, substance abuse counselors can find employment in a variety of job settings, such as those listed here. When exploring how to become an addictions counselor, you will also see that it’s possible to specialize in a particular demographic, such as youth. If you do, it will likely impact where you find employment, i.e., schools or juvenile detention centers.
- Residential treatment facilities
- Private practice
- Government agencies
- Mental health clinics
- Probation or parole agencies
- Juvenile detention facilities
- Halfway houses
- Detox centers
- Employee assistance programs
- Outpatient treatment centers
How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor
Now, let’s look specifically at how to become an addiction counselor. At a minimum, you will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling. Going on to earn a master’s and secure licensing, on the other hand, will open the door for private practice and provide many more opportunities for career advancement and advanced counseling.
Ottawa University proudly offers accelerated online addiction counseling programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The programs are led by Dr. Kirk Bowden, President-Elect of NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. Dr. Bowden serves on the editorial boards of Advances in Addiction and Recovery, the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, and Substance Abuse, the professional journal of the Association for Medical Education and Research.
Becoming an addiction counselor requires the right education. Students in Ottawa University’s Bachelor of Science in Addiction Counseling program gain the skills needed to pursue a career as a drug counselor to improve the welfare of those who find their lives jeopardized by various forms of addiction. The accelerated, online coursework is focused on the integration of research, theories of addiction, and counseling theories. Students gain an understanding of substance use disorders, chemical dependency, alcohol and other drugs (AOD), harm reduction, co-occurring disorders, dual diagnosis, and factors that influence the delivery of addiction counseling and substance use disorder services. They also learn how to assist addicted individuals in obtaining long-term recovery through a curriculum surrounding cultural competence, screening, intake, assessment, treatment and treatment planning, case management, crisis intervention, client education, and documentation. Specific coursework includes:
- Intro to Substance Abuse Disorders and Addictions Counseling
- Human Development and Addiction
- Theories of Personality and Addiction
- Psychopharmacology and Addiction
- Psychopathological and Co-Occurring Disorders
- Clinical Addiction Counseling Issues
- Multi-Cultural Competencies in Addiction Counseling
- Professional Responsibility: Legal and Ethics Issues of Addiction Counseling
- Special Issues in Addiction Counseling
- Families and Addiction
- Group Counseling in Addiction
- Adc Practicum/Internship I & II - 150 hours of clinical addiction counseling work experience in a supervised setting
Master of Science in Addiction Counseling
Ottawa University’s accelerated, online Master of Science in Addiction Counseling (MSAC) degree program prepares learners to pursue careers as addiction counseling professionals who treat individuals with substance abuse and dependency disorders. Graduates may work in a variety of settings, including private practice, substance abuse clinics, group practices, and hospitals. To enter private practice, or to become a licensed counseling professional, a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical experience is required in addition to earning an MSAC, as is passing a state exam.
OU’s MSAC meets the educational requirements, in most states, for licensure or certification. It also meets the requirements for licensure in Arizona for the Licensed Associate Substance Abuse Counselor (LASAC). However, licensure or certification requirements vary from state to state. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the student to contact their state licensure or certification authority to assure that the degree requirements meet their state’s requirements.
Specific coursework for the MSAC includes:
- Graduate Seminar: Clinical and Addictions Foundations
- Introduction to Addictions
- Multicultural Concerns in Addictions Counseling
- Law and Ethics in Addictions Counseling
- Theories and Practices of Groups in Addictions Counseling
- Methods and Models of Research in Addictions Counseling
- Appraisal, Assessment, and Treatment Planning in Addictions Counseling
- Psychopharmacology and Addictions Counseling
- Co-Occurring Disorders
- Fundamentals of Treatment of Trauma, Abuse, and Deprivation
- Addictions Counseling in Family Systems
- Practicum in Addictions Counseling – Students perform the activities of a regularly scheduled employee in an addictions counseling setting and complete 150 contact hours, of which half are direct contact
- Practicum in Addictions Counseling Continued
OU Programs Among Top in Nation
Based on Dr. Bowden’s national experience in the field of addiction counseling, he has this to say about OU’s bachelor’s and master’s programs: “I truly believe that Ottawa University's Addiction Counseling degree programs are among the top in the nation. OU offers outstanding master’s, bachelor’s, and certificates online. Our faculty are all highly qualified addiction professionals with many years of experience. I’m also proud to note that in 2017 Ottawa’s Addiction Counseling program was honored as the ‘Outstanding Addiction/Offender Program of the Year” by the International Association of Addiction and Offender Counselors, which is a division of the American Counseling Association."
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Whether you are exploring how to become a substance abuse counselor, starting the journey of entering the counseling field, or deciding to add a master’s to your credentials, our enrollment advisors are ready to help you take the first step. Contact us today!
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