How to Become an Addiction Counselor

Since the expansion of health insurance benefits to millions more Americans under the Affordable Care Act, more individuals in need of treatment for substance abuse disorders have been able to start the path to recovery. As a result, many more qualified, knowledgeable personnel are being sought to help treat this new wave of patients.

This is the task of addiction counselors: to provide treatment, support, and advice to people who have alcoholism, substance use disorders, and other related conditions. Addiction counselors work closely with patients to assess their needs, develop effective treatment plans, and facilitate access to resources and strategies that promote recovery.

The substance use and behavioral disorder counselor profession will grow an estimated 31% from 2012 to 2020, a rate much faster than the national average.

Becoming an Addiction Counselor

Education requirements, licensure, and certification are important considerations for a prospective addiction counselor.

Education Requirements
Addiction counselor education requirements vary depending on the state of employment and the desired position and work setting. Some positions require only a high school diploma, whereas others require a Master’s degree. Candidates with lower academic credentials may need to undergo thousands more hours of on-the-job training than others with more formal education.

State Licensure
States generally have minimum conditions that must be met before they grant licenses authorizing people to work as substance use disorder counselors. Check with your state’s Department of Labor about specific requirements.

Earning certification can improve your career prospects and enhance the quality of your work. Different states have different certification titles and levels. You will need to check with the state in which you plan to practice to determine the specific requirements. In addition to state certification, counselors may obtain voluntary certification from the International Credentialing and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). The group sets and monitors competency standards for eight internationally recognized reciprocal credentials, including the Addiction & Drug Counselor (ADC) certification. Depending on your state credential, you may or may not need additional training and work experience hours to earn IC&RC credentials. Individuals considering relocation should investigate reciprocity of their credential before moving. For information about specific requirements, contact your local IC&RC board.

State certification boards and the IC&RC require a written examination that assesses the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for effectiveness as an addiction professional.

Substance Abuse Counselor Job Description

The work of substance abuse counselors is important and complex.

Patients, whether seeking treatment voluntarily or because of a court mandate, come to counselors at a moment of great vulnerability. Stigma surrounding Substance Use Disorders can make it hard for patients to acknowledge that they need help, and hard for them to reflect on the factors contributing to their circumstances. That’s why well-trained counselors who have compassion and patience are key to effective treatment.

To ensure safe practice and the health of their patients, addiction professionals must be knowledgeable about the biological, social and psychological factors associated with substance use disorders. They also must cultivate qualities that are invaluable for putting their patients at ease: Empathy, communication skills, the ability to listen, patience, and a genuine interest in the well-being of the patient.

If you desire to build those competencies and attributes, a career in the growing field of substance abuse counseling may be right for you.

What Substance Abuse Counselors Do

The addiction professional’s core work is to treat and support patients in their recovery. For each new patient, the process often starts with a comprehensive evaluation of health status, background, living environment, and the specific nature of the addiction.

The counselor builds a complete treatment plan that takes into account both the patient and his or her family members and significant others. The counselor monitors the patient’s progress and evaluates treatment outcomes, referring patients, as needed, to appropriate agencies and support services such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Counselors also work with the wider community to increase awareness about substance use disorders.

In short, effective substance abuse counselors employ a wide range of skills and methods to aid patients in their recovery. If this challenging but rewarding work interests you, consider becoming an addiction counselor.

Prepare for the Exam – Pursue Certification
The University of Florida online Graduate Certificate in Addiction and Recovery is designed to help prepare students to pursue state, national, and international credentials by equipping them with the knowledge and competencies needed for success on the required exams.