Working as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, you can help people to overcome their substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse counseling is a fairly popular field in psychology and social work as there is quite a need for this service. Using substances can begin as simple acts of recreation, as substance use, but can become a strong driving force in someone’s life which becomes substance abuse. Working as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor (or a substance abuse counselor), you may work with various forms of substance addictions including alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs like cocaine.
As an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, you would help to prevent or treat various types of substance addictions. You would conduct counseling for clients one on one or in a group setting. Your job duties would likely include assessment of the client and their behaviors to determine whether they are addicted and, if so, what they are addicted to. To do this, you would use certain standards, such as certain types of questioning and/or surveys, to identify the extent to which someone uses a certain substance. You would also consider your clients’ readiness for change, what stage are they at in terms of actually recognizing that there is a problem, how much do they want to change, and how willing and motivated are they to actually choose and implement different behaviors. Also, you would decide on and implement the appropriate treatment for the client. Treatment would include therapy that has been shown effective for the particular addiction they have. It would also often incorporate helping the client to deal with his or her underlying mental health issues such as grief or trauma that may have been related to the addiction. Treatment often includes various levels of the twelve-step programs. You might work in a mental health agency, a prison, private practice, or a rehab center.
In order to become alcohol and drug abuse counselor, you need to obtain a master’s degree, which can take approximately two years after your bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree can usually be completed in four years of full-time coursework. You can obtain your bachelor’s and master’s degrees either in counseling or social work in order to work in a job that would consist of the job duties as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. Many master’s degree programs may accept students even from other disciplines (rather than psychology or social work), as well. In your master’s program, you should take courses related to addictions, such as addictions counseling, family dynamics, and substance abuse.
The average annual salary of an alcohol and drug abuse counselor is about $38,000 (.bls.gov). This would vary, though, depending on where you work. For instance, you might get paid more on average if you work at a hospital rather than a local substance abuse clinic.
To be an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, you must be compassionate and patient with your clients. Your clients will quite possibly experience relapse. They might use substances even though they are trying and really want to change. As an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, you also need to be comfortable with emotions and willing to allow the expression of emotion. In doing alcohol and drug abuse counseling, your clients are likely to have lots of unprocessed emotions that might come up if they decided to stop using substances. You should be empathic, nonjudgmental, and accepting of the people you work with as well as their families. You truly have to be nonjudgmental and compassionate.