A certified drug and alcohol counselor helps people come to terms with their addictions and develop the skills they need to regain control of their lives. A counselor acts as a mentor and an authority on addiction issues. Most counselors are employed by inpatient rehabilitation centers and outpatient drug abuse recovery programs. Specific job duties depend on the structure of the program, but most professionals split their time between talking to clients individually, leading group activities, and performing various administrative duties such as filing paperwork.
When meeting with a client, a certified drug and alcohol counselor tries to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. He or she assesses the client's condition in a nonjudgmental, empathetic fashion to decide how to approach issues. Some addicts are uncooperative in initial meetings, refusing to discuss personal information or denying that they have problems. It is up to the counselor to gradually build a trusting relationship and explain that he or she is there to help. Over time, clients usually come to respect and look up to their counselors as faithful allies in their personal recovery paths.
A certified drug and alcohol counselor might employ a number of different techniques during individual sessions. Many programs emphasize proven 12 step recovery plans such as the one established by Alcoholics Anonymous. A counselor can help an addict understand and work through the steps. He or she might encourage journaling, letter writing, and other activities that promote deep thinking and realization of personal issues.
During group counseling sessions, a certified drug and alcohol counselor often acts more like a participant than an authority figure. He or she shares stories along with group members, encourages discussion, and brings up important points at key times. The goal of a group counselor is to try to keep meetings on topic and promote friendly, meaningful discourse. By acting as a role model and taking part in activities, the counselor can establish good rapport and help people feel more comfortable sharing with others.
The requirements to become a certified drug and alcohol counselor vary between regions and countries. In most regions, hopeful workers need to earn associate's or bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling, psychology, or a similar subject. Certification is awarded after completing specialized training courses, written exams, and a set number of supervised work hours. With continuing education and practical experience, a counselor can achieve higher levels of certification and take on more responsibilities.
Many counselors decide to enter the profession after experiencing their own struggles with addiction and recovery. A recovering addict who has spent time in rehab programs and gained several years of sobriety can often bring a more personal perspective to the job. As a counselor, an addict can better relate with clients, share about experiences, and explain what worked for him or her in recovery. As community service and giving back are common tenets of rehab programs, it makes sense that many recovering addicts decide to help others achieve the same success.