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What Are the Duties of a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance abuse counselors work with clients, their families and other community liaisons to assist individuals in recovering from addiction. Read on to learn about how you can impact a person's life as a substance abuse counselor.

Substance Abuse Counseling Overview

As a substance abuse counselor, you can help individuals battling addictions to alcohol, drugs and other chemical substances by identifying problematic behaviors that fuel their addictions. You might use the latest prevention techniques and treatment methods to help clients maintain sobriety and prevent relapse. You also offer your guidance and support throughout the recovery process by working cooperatively with the individual's family members, who are also directly affected by the negative effects of substance abuse.

Important Facts About Substance Abuse Counselors

Median Salary (2018) $44,630 (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder counselors and mental health counselors)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 23% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)
Key Skills Empathy, patience, oral and written communication, listening
Similar Occupations Rehabilitation counselors, school and career counselors, social and community service managers, social workers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Duties and Responsibilities

Your specific job duties can vary depending on your employment agency, location, and qualifications. Typical responsibilities include assessment, goal-setting, documentation, referral, education, and collaboration.

Assessing a potential patient or client might involve testing, observation or direct interaction to gauge the extent of a problem. You'll help patients identify goals and establish plans to realize their milestones and objectives. You'll need to maintain accurate notes regarding your clients' progress and refer them to outside agencies or community resources to help with specific needs, such as housing, employment, and education. You'll relay necessary information to your clients, their families and other involved professionals, as well as monitor your clients' compliance with their treatment programs and any laws or rules they're subject to.

Education Requirements

The level of education you'll need to work in substance abuse counseling depends on the level of responsibility you desire, as well as the work setting and state regulations. In some cases, you may need only a high school diploma, while other positions require a master's degree. The more education you have, the less supervision you'll require and the more services you can provide. In your substance abuse counseling program, you might learn about individual and group counseling, assessment, cultural competency, addiction, co-occurring disorders, and relapse prevention. You'll likely need to complete an internship or practicum as well.

Licensure Info

If you plan to go into private practice, you'll need to become licensed. Though licensure requirements vary by state, all require that you have a master's degree and 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised practice. You'll also need to pass a state-approved licensing exam. Continuing education is required to maintain your license. If you don't want to go into private practice, your licensure requirements could be more varied. In some states, you may not be required to have any specific type of degree, but you'll still need to pass an exam. Check with your state's licensing board for specific requirements.

Careers and Employers

You could find work in a number of public and private health care institutions, such as residential drug treatment centers, correctional facilities, halfway houses or hospitals. In addition to conducting individual and group counseling, you may need to provide crisis interventions or after-hours care as needed for your clients. You could also educate the public about the ramifications of drug addiction on individuals and society through lectures, workshops and community events. Other dependency counseling services you might provide include helping people with eating disorders and gambling addictions.