What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor is a person who works with people seeking treatment for various addictions. A substance abuse counselor may stage interventions or speak with a person who hasn't yet realized his or her drug problem. More commonly, substance abuse counselors work with those who have realized they have an addiction, and who are seeking help.

A counselor in the substance abuse field may work with people with a wide variety of different addictions. For example, alcohol abuse counselors work with those people who are unable to manage an addiction to alcohol. Other counselors work with people who are hooked on prescription or illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, Vicodin, and Codeine, among others.

Substance abuse counselors may also work in a variety of environments. Some counselors work in live-in or residential facilities that treat addicts. Others work with patients on an out-patient basis, and conduct meetings in churches, community outreach centers, doctor's offices, or other related locations.

A substance abuse counselor usually works within an established protocol used for treating addicts. For example, some substance abuse counselors use a 12-Step Program, which is common in Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as in some other types of drug addiction treatments. These counselors lead addicts through twelve steps to recovery, which include admitting powerlessness, turning to God, and making amends, among others.


Counselors may provide one-on-one or group therapy to addicts. A substance abuse counselor may encourage addicts to share their stories with others in order to learn through self-reflection. A counselor may also help addicts get to the root of their addictions, or help them to learn behavioral management skills so that they are better able to cope with addiction.

Some substance abuse counselors are licensed psychologists, therapists or other medical professionals. Other counselors are former addicts who volunteer within the substance abuse treatment community to share the benefit of their own experiences. Often, residential treatment facilities employ both types of counselors to provide a broad range of treatment and counseling for addicts.

A substance abuse counselor must express a high degree of empathy for others. He or she must be trained to see the signs of addiction, and to cope with patients who are struggling to overcome a dependence on drugs or alcohol. Some counselors must also be trained to handle medical emergencies associated with withdrawal and overdose, although those tasks are usually left to nurses or physicians who also work with addicts.



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