More and more people are considering a substance abuse counselor career, as drug and alcohol addictions continue to ravage millions of lives across America. This article will provide an overview of the substance abuse counselor career, which, to be perfectly honest, can be one of the most frustrating medical careers, due to the high relapse rates among clients. We’ll discuss what a substance abuse counselor (also known as an addiction counselor) does in his or her day-to-day work, some typical environments in which someone in this occupation would likely be working and the aptitudes and skills necessary to be successful in this challenging, highly stressful but deeply rewarding career. We’ll also cover the educational and certification requirements. Finally, we’ll discuss what kind of salaries addiction counselors can expect, as well as the outlook for jobs in this field in the coming years. This should by no means be taken as an in- depth career study, but should give a people the basic information they need to decide if the career is a good fit.
The job of an addiction counselor involves talking with people who have serious drug and alcohol problems in order to help them break their addictions. This is done by explaining the nature of addiction, the physical and emotional triggers that amplify the desire to drink or use drugs, and the damage the addict is doing to his body, life, and relationships. Finally, it is the role of the substance abuse counselor to provide addicts with skills and strategies to help them overcome their compulsion to use drugs or drink alcohol.
There are many healthcare experts who consider a substance abuse counselor career one of the most difficult and stressful jobs in the entire healthcare industry; even more stressful than the careers of brain surgeons or oncologists. That’s because of the high failure rate, or recidivism rate, that drug and alcohol addicts have when it comes to trying to break their addictions. While a great many substance abusers experience short-term success, the majority of them go on to relapse at some time in the future. Adding to the stress is that many addicts usually have to “hit bottom” before they seek help, which means that in many cases, their lives are sad, desperate affairs. Dealing with these two factors in a substance abuse counselor career requires the ability to draw strong boundaries. Empathy is necessary, but one must avoid getting emotionally attached to successful patient outcomes.
Sometimes counselors will work with addicts in one-on-one counseling sessions, but often counseling is done in a group setting. Another facet of the occupation is counseling family members of the addicts. Common work environments include rehabilitation centers, hospitals, mental health clinics, colleges and universities, and larger corporations (as part of an Employee Assistance Program). The minimum education required is a bachelor’s degree, but most substance abuse counselors either possess or are working toward a master’s degree, often in social work. It’s expected that in a few years, a master’s degree will be required of all new addiction counselors. In addition to a degree, the prospective substance abuse counselor must also obtain certification, which is done by taking one of several recognized certification exams.
These include the EMAC, NAADAC, CAADAP, CAAP-1, and CAAP-2 exams.
Salaries vary for a substance abuse counselor career;, with most of the higher-salaried jobs being in managerial positions, which usually require years of experience to attain. In non-managerial positions, the majority of substance abuse counselors earn from $35,000 to $50,000 a year. Some earn less than this, and others earn quite a bit more. Much depends on what area of the country the job is located in, and whether the job is with a governmental agency or a private employer. All things being equal, governmental jobs tend to have higher salaries than private-sector jobs. Job prospects for the next several years are expected to be above average, with more job openings than qualified substance abuse counselors available to fill them.