Addiction Counselor Jobs & Career Guide

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What is an addiction counselor?

An addiction counselor works with clients who are struggling with addictions. They treat a wide-array of people who have a wide-array of substance abuse problems: anything from alcohol to methamphetamine. The addiction counseling side also deals with non-drug addictions and other behavioral issues, like gambling or eating disorders.

It’s their job to help their clients learn to navigate the challenges of life without their maladaptive coping mechanism of choice. With their counseling and support, a client can learn more about their addictions and gain the understanding and strength needed to change their use habits.

What does an addiction counselor do?

You will work with individuals who may have eating disorders, drug addictions, or other self-destructive behaviors. It’s their job to provide guidance and education to their clients.

Their ultimate goals are assisting their client in understanding the roots of their addiction problems and encouraging them to take steps to recovery.

Their clients can range from people who are active users in crisis situations to those who are sober. It depends on the person. It also depends on the population the therapist is working with. Substance Abuse Psychologists/Drug and Alcohol Counselors can work with a specific group of people, like veterans, for instance.

When these therapists engage with their clients it can be in a group or in one-on-one setting. It depends on their treatment preference.

On the job, you can expect to:

  • Find options for addiction support groups and recommend them to their clientele.
  • If their client has a criminal record, they may be required to give updates on the individual’s progress in the program to a court.
  • Manage a group therapy session.
  • Give their clients healthy coping mechanisms to successfully traverse the difficulties of everyday life.
  • Evaluate their clients’ addiction problems and use that information to develop realistic goals and a treatment plan.
  • Get their clients back into the workforce.
  • Talk to their client’s support system (most likely family or friends) to give them guidance.
  • Create an aftercare plan, so their client is supported during their recovery.

Where does an addiction counselor work?

Professionals in this field have a few options of where they can work. The most common spots are in a private practice, for a prison, within a community health center, or at a mental health center. It’s their job to counsel those suffering with their addictions and other substance abuse issues, and these locations are often filled with individuals in need of assistance.

What other career options are available in this field?

The most common career in the substance abuse/drug and alcohol niche is being a therapist. People struggling with addiction need plenty of support and guidance — and this is where most of the need remains. This isn’t the only option.

Some common substance abuse jobs:

  • Addictions Prevention Specialist: The major responsibility of an Addictions Prevention Specialist is providing preventative education to marginalized and at-risk populations. Their goal is reducing the number of addicts by sharing research-based knowledge.
  • Addiction Specialist: To be an Addiction Specialist, you’ll first need to be a medical physician or psychiatrist. These professionals have also been certified as addiction treatment experts and use their health or psychiatric training to provide care for addicts.
  • Addiction Treatment Coordinator: At recovery treatment centers, there are several kinds of coordinators who help with various daily tasks and functionalities. Their job duties range from overseeing doctors to ensure they’re following the correct protocols to assessing patients and addressing their care needs.
  • Counselor Aide: Being employed as a Counselor Aide means assisting a counselor with administrative functions, such as checking in patients or even developing educational programming.
  • Crisis Specialist or Technician: If someone is having a negative emotional reaction to a crisis event, a Crisis Specialist or Technician will step in to help them successfully navigate their response. They’re counselors who see their clients for much shorter terms due to the nature of the counseling.
  • Substance Abuse Case Manager: A Substance Abuse Case Manager’s function is helping with their client’s treatment by evaluating, assessing, advocating, and planning resources. They could work with individuals or with a larger group.
  • Substance Abuse Residence Manager: These detail-oriented psychologists manage the care services and treatments for substance abuse or addiction program residents. They coordinate with everyone from medical staff to members of the leadership team to keep cohesion within the program.

What degree is required?

To join the addiction psychology/counseling niche, a bachelor’s degree is most likely required. Psychology, social work, or social science are all great undergraduate study options.

Depending on where you’re working and what your job responsibilities are, a high school diploma may be the only educational requirement.

If you’re interested in pursuing a counseling job, earning your master’s degree is imperative. This isn’t the final step though. Therapists must also pass a licensing exam (which varies by state) and have 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised counseling experience.

What skills are required in substance abuse treatment jobs?

While all facets of counseling-related psychology require people with strong mental fortitude, those in this niche need to be brimming with that quality. Unfortunately, their clients can experience extreme highs and lows. Without proper self-care and boundary-setting, addiction counselors can quickly burn out.

Besides possessing a great internal strength, Substance Abuse Psychologists must also be compassionate listeners. Their clients are in the vulnerable position of sharing deeply personal information. Retaining what they say and assessing it without judgement is incredibly important to building trust.

How much money does an addiction counselor earn?

Within this section of psychology, most professionals work fulltime and often during nights and weekends. The average salary is $47,660.

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