How to Become an Addiction Counselor

addiction group counseling session

A career as an addiction counselor is often appealing to people who want to make helping others their life’s work. As an addiction counselor, you will lead individual and group counseling sessions designed to help others turn their lives around. In doing so, you will make a positive contribution to your community. To pursue a career in this line of work, you will first need to earn an addiction counseling degree.

Understanding the Role of the Addiction Counselor

An addiction counselor works with people from all backgrounds who are struggling with substance use disorders, including addictions to drugs and alcohol. Many of these patients also suffer from co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder. The addiction counselor is responsible for helping these individuals overcome their challenges by building strong coping skills. On a typical day, a counselor may accomplish any of the following tasks:

  • Evaluate the mental health, medical history and behavioral issues of new clients.
  • Develop treatment goals and plans and discuss them with clients.
  • Help clients identify obstacles to their recovery and brainstorm solutions for overcoming them.
  • Provide referrals to other community resources as clients work to get their life back on track.
  • Work with family members to help them understand the nature of addiction and its treatment.

State Requirements for Licensure

To be an addiction counselor, you must meet the minimum academic qualifications and training requirements for licensure or certification in your state. Check with the licensing board for the state in which you plan to practice and evaluate its requirements so that you can begin working toward them. In addition to academic and clinical experience hours, you can expect the state licensing board to require a background check and fingerprint clearance.

Note that it is common for a state licensing board to require licensed counselors to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year. In other words, this career is well suited to people who aspire to be lifelong learners.

Earning Your Undergraduate Addiction Counseling Degree

The next step is to enroll in an addiction counseling degree program offered by an accredited university. For example, you might enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Counseling program that has a specialization in substance abuse therapy or counseling. It typically takes four years to complete an undergraduate degree. Many students take a combination of online and in-person classes. While programs vary from one university to the next, you can expect to explore topics such as the following:

  • The fundamentals of addiction, including causes, contributing factors, stages, processes and impacts.
  • The effects of and treatments for co-occurring disorders.
  • elapse prevention, crisis intervention and case management.
  • Professional ethics in counseling, legal issues and compliance with privacy laws.

Also, you will acquire fundamental skills in providing one-on-one and group counseling for children, adolescents and adults.

Earning an Advanced Degree in Addiction Counseling

It may be possible to land a position at a substance abuse treatment center with just a bachelor’s degree. However, many employers and licensing boards require addiction counselors to hold at least a master’s degree. Fortunately, students can typically earn a master’s degree in addiction counseling in as little as one to three years. In some universities, all or most classes are available online.

Through your studies, you will acquire a deeper understanding of the theories of substance abuse counseling and effective techniques you can put into practice during your sessions. You will explore the complex dynamics of families affected by addiction, and you may study topics such as co-occurring disorders and psychopharmacology.

Completing Supervised Clinical Experience Hours

Your state licensing board will specify how many supervised clinical experience hours you must complete. Your master’s degree program may include a requirement to complete a certain number of practicum or internship hours as part of the curriculum. Some states may require additional hours beyond the requirements of your degree program.

The purpose of supervised clinical hours is to give you real-life, on-the-job training beyond what you have learned in the classroom. You will have the opportunity to apply the techniques you have studied real-life situations. As you work with a diverse client caseload, you will learn how to build rapport with your clients, help them troubleshoot common problems and guide them in developing coping skills.

To get the most out of your field experience hours, you may find it helpful to keep a journal. Each evening, you would enter some notes about the counseling techniques you used that day and how you might hone your approach moving forward. To reap the greatest benefits, do not hesitate to ask questions of your supervisor and other counselors working at the practice.

You can blend your passion for helping others with purpose when you earn an addiction counseling degree at Grand Canyon University. Our comprehensive degree programs include the Bachelor of Science in Counseling with an Emphasis in Addiction, Chemical Dependency and Substance Abuse and the Master of Science in Addiction Counseling. Begin your academic journey at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences by visiting our website or clicking on Request Info above.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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