addiction counselor job description

What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?

Experts report that more than 46 million people in the United States—about 17 percent of the total population—are struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD). The demographic most affected by an SUD, commonly referred to as substance addiction, was young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

And this is just the number of people who have been diagnosed. There are many, many more individuals who are battling a substance abuse problem and possibly afraid to seek help. Perhaps they do not know where to turn for support. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, your family friend. Addiction can affect anyone, no matter their age or background. The good news is that it is highly treatable – and that is where addiction counselors come in.

What is an Addiction Counselor?

An addiction counselor, also referred to as a substance abuse counselor, is a specialist who helps people with substance use disorders. These professionals provide therapeutic, mental and behavioral health services to those in need, and help clients establish a pathway towards recovery.

Addiction counselors typically work in mental health treatment centers and rehabilitation facilities for people struggling with addiction. They may also be employed by healthcare practitioners, or found working in family and social services. No matter the setting, the core of their work is the same: These counselors are responsible for creating safe, supportive environments for people battling a substance use disorder. They help people get to the root of their drug problems, develop solutions for recovery, and work to improve mental health and problem behaviors in their clients.

What Do Addiction Counselors Do?

The work of the addiction counselor is invaluable, especially amidst a growing mental health crisis in our communities. Addiction counselors are responsible for evaluating their clients’ health, recommending treatment, fostering coping skills for future success, and providing therapeutic support to help facilitate their recovery. Their ultimate goal is to help their clients lead healthier, more productive lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, addiction counselors can be found doing the following:

  • Assessing the behavioral, mental, and/or physical health symptoms of their clients
  • Determining clients readiness for treatment through an initial screening
  • Developing treatment plans and goals for those struggling with substance addiction
  • Helping clients develop skills to cope with cravings, triggers, and reintegration after rehab
  • Recording clients’ progress and maintaining documentation
  • Working with clients’ families to understand addiction, and develop strategies to support them
  • Referring clients to other types of support services, such as medical help, support groups, job placement services, sober living homes, and more
  • Preparing clients for transition out of therapy and/or rehab
  • Educating people about the effects of substance abuse and addiction
  • Conducting outreach programs to help others know the signs of addiction (and how to prevent it)

Addiction counselors may work with their clients on a one-to-one basis, or in group therapy settings. Substance abuse is often triggered by stress and trauma, so these counselors are largely focused on helping clients learn how to cope with negative feelings and triggers. Addiction counselors may also help clients to re-build relationships with family and friends, as well as establish themselves back at school or work, as too often, substance addiction burns bridges personally and professionally over time.

Addiction counselors are largely focused on the behavioral health of their clients, as addiction stems from the behavior of substance abuse. However, substance abuse itself can stem from mental health, emotional health, and even physical health problems, so it’s important for addiction counselors to recognize that these circumstances are interlinked and that co-occurring disorders are common.

As a result, it is common to find addiction counselors working on a larger team of healthcare professionals. They may work with psychologists and social workers, as well as physicians and registered nurses, to ensure they are creating a comprehensive treatment plan that sets their client up for success.

Who Addiction Counselors Help

As described above, addiction counselors work with a team of professionals and practitioners to ensure the recovery of their clients. But who exactly are their clients?

Well, it can be anyone. Anyone – of any age, background, or upbringing – can struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Based on the latest statistics available, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are the most affected population. So, if you choose to become an addiction counselor, you can expect to work with young people who have spiraled into the addiction cycle. You may (and likely will) encounter adults and adolescents facing substance abuse problems.

As an addiction counselor, you have the ability to specialize and work with specific populations. For example, some addiction counselors work exclusively with veterans, with specialized training in areas like post-traumatic stress. Others may work solely with teenagers, as young people require different approaches to addiction prevention and care.

How You Can Help Those Struggling With Addiction

There is no doubt that addiction counseling is a rewarding career—both professionally and personally. This pathway provides the unique opportunity to help a vulnerable population overcome some of their darkest days, and find new light and meaning in their lives. It offers the ability to make an impact. And this may be appealing to you.

To become an addiction counselor, there are various steps you must take in terms of your education and training. This typically includes:

  • Earning a college degree (degree requirements vary by employer and state)
  • Completing relevant coursework (such as an addiction counseling certificate)
  • Fulfilling relevant, in-field experience (sometimes offered as an internship in collegiate programs)
  • Becoming licensed or certified in your state

Of course, requirements for addiction counselors will vary by state and employer. It is important to do your research and understand the specific prerequisites needed to fulfill this career path where you are.

For those ready to get started, Goodwin University is an excellent choice to fulfill the education requirements. Goodwin University offers a comprehensive Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC) certificate that includes both online classes and in-person, hands-on experiences for those new to this field of work. Our goal is to prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to earn your state CAC certification, on a fast and flexible timeline. The CAC program at Goodwin can be completed in as few as three semesters full-time if you already have a college degree under your belt.

Learn more about the Certified Addiction Counselor certificate program online, here. Or, to speak with an admissions specialist at Goodwin, simply give us a call at 800-889-3282 today.