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Drug Abuse Counselors

  1. Article Quick LinksPrint
  2. Drug Abuse Counseling Careers
  3. What Does a Drug Abuse Counselor Do?
  4. How Does Drug Abuse Counseling Work?
  5. What About the Family?
  6. What Else Do They Do?

In addition to group addiction counseling, one-on-one sessions allow for more personalized help.

In addition to group addiction counseling, one-on-one sessions allow for more personalized help.

In 2013, there were an estimated 21.6 million people suffering from substance abuse or dependence. That staggering number equates to 8.2% of the national population. Also in 2013, only 4.1 million of those people— a mere fraction of those that need help—went on to receive treatment for problems related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Looking at these numbers, it's becomes increasingly clear that drug abuse counselors are an integral part of the substance abuse treatment industry, and of the American workforce in general.


Credit: eHow

Drug abuse counselors specialize in the treatment and recovery of substance abusers. They work with people suffering from dependencies on any type of drug ranging from cocaine to marijuana. Drug abuse counselors may work in places such as:

  • Research facilities
  • Educational centers
  • Hospitals
  • Mental health facilities
  • Methadone clinics
  • Private practice clinics
  • Detention centers
  • Drug rehabilitation centers
  • Detox centers

Drug Abuse Counselors Quiz question 1

Drug abuse counselors are required in most states to have some sort of certification. They must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, though degrees are preferred in some areas.

Drug Abuse Counselors Quiz question 2

Drug Abuse Counseling Careers

Drug abuse treatment can be provided by a number of practitioner types. Each of these addiction treatment roles naturally require varying levels of education and training, and can range from the non-credentialed counselor to social workers and clinical psychologists. Common to all of these is the fact that each requires some degree of specialized knowledge and fieldwork / drug abuse counseling expertise. Some career examples include:

  • Certified Substance Abuse Counselor: One can embark upon this route post- high-school education, and can attain increasing levels of certification in the field beyond this.
  • Substance Abuse Counseling; Associate Degree: Up to two years of full-time study beyond high-school diploma.
  • Substance Abuse Counseling; Bachelor Degree: 4 years of college level study.
  • RN Counselor (Registered Nurse): Another bachelor level degree. ~4 years of education after high school.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) / Social Work Master Degree (MSW) / Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors: LCMHC.): At least 2 years beyond a bachelor level program.
  • Addiction Psychologist (Masters, PhD, PsyD, others): Varying lengths of training and field work in addiction treatment. At least 2 years post bachelor level. 4 or more for doctoral level degrees.

What Does a Drug Abuse Counselor Do?

A drug abuse counselor works with the drug user in a therapy setting. His or her purpose is to find the root of the addiction and help patients progress into sobriety. Depending on the underlying cause of the addiction discovered, the counselor develops an individual treatment plan for each patient. To help their patients work past the addiction, counselors educate them about addiction and teach them how to move on through life without substance abuse. The main goal of a drug abuse counselor is to guide the drug abuser into sobriety through counseling.

Drug Abuse Counselors Quiz question 3

Small and large group therapy promotes honest, open discussion amongst those looking to leave behind substance abuse.

Small and large group therapy promotes honest, open discussion amongst those looking to leave behind substance abuse.

Treatment for drug abuse is different for each patient and can include a combination of:

  • motivational interviewing
  • contingency management
  • cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • family therapy

Motivational interviewing is a type of therapy that prepares individuals to change their regular behavior and accept treatment for their addictions. It is a very focused activity and requires patients to explore their own behavior and recognize where change is needed. It is used to help the user realize that change needs to be made on his or her part to get better and live a sober lifestyle.

Drug Abuse Counselors Quiz question 4

Contingency management is a type of positive reinforcement counseling that encourages the patient to abstain from drug use. When progress is made, the patient is rewarded for his or her efforts, and on the contrary, when he or she regresses, a punishment is incurred and the reward is withheld. It is one of the most successful forms of therapy. Incentive-based therapy has been proven to be highly effective in treatment and abstinence from drugs according to studies by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a plan that leads patients to understand and avoid situations that are most likely to influence them to use drugs. It also teaches coping skills to the patient. The process teaches the user to recognize negative thoughts, triggers and emotions and then have an acceptable response that excludes the use of drugs. It is an extremely important therapy step for drug abusers. Studies by NIDA conclude that skills learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy remain with patients after therapy has been completed.

Family therapy is also called multidimensional family therapy. It is used to improve the functioning of a family as well as address influences that may be pressed on the patient from the family unit. This approach involves the family of the user in treatment by working with each member alone and the family together as a unit. Family therapy is essential for the treatment of youth users, as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) had estimated that adults in 2008 were six times as likely to have adult dependency issues if they started smoking marijuana before the age of 14 as compared to those that began after the age of 18.

Drug Abuse Counselors Quiz question 5

The work of a drug abuse counselor requires qualities such as compassion, patience, understanding and sensitive. Counselors devote a great deal of time, energy and hope in their patients. They pride themselves in the successes that their patients achieve.

Drug Abuse Counselors Quiz question 6

How Does Drug Abuse Counseling Work?

When you first meet your abuse counselor, he or she will discuss with you your addiction as well as your past. The counselor will attempt to get to know who you are and what may have caused the substance abuse. Through treatment, he or she will discover the most suitable way for you to lead you into a sober living lifestyle, with each meeting fine-tuning their plan of recovery.

A drug abuse counselor will help you identify your addiction-related behavior patterns and help you confront behavioral and emotional issues that may be hindering your progress. Some sessions will be easier than others, but with each session comes more progress.

If you want help finding the best drug abuse counselor for you, please call us today at (800) 943-0566. We're available 24/7 to help you.

What About the Family?

Another key role of drug abuse counselors is to work with the families of patients as the user moves through treatment. In addition to providing their loved one with individualized care, they educate the family on treatment, drug information and the progress of their loved one.

NIDA studies have shown that family bonding programs are particularly effective with patients, as they promote a healthy home life and offer preventative education to other members of the family unit. A family can better deal with the addiction and achieve ultimate sobriety if they are knowledgeable.

What Else Do They Do?

Their job doesn't end when you or your loved one leave their office. Drug abuse counselors also help arrange additional mental health treatment and healthcare that may be needed. They may consult with psychiatrists and psychologists if they suspect an underlying mental condition and then refer you to their services for care in needed. Some may recommend inpatient care at a substance abuse residential center if they believe it is best for the patient. Counselors are trained to think beyond the counseling session and always make treatment decisions in the patient's best interest.

Need Help Understanding Your Addiction Treatment Options? Call 1-888-747-7155.