What does an Addiction Counselor do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
An addiction counselor can help people with a gambling addiction.
An addiction counselor can help people with a gambling addiction.

An addiction counselor is a mental health professional who specializes in helping patients with addictions. These counselors can work in private practice, as part of substance abuse clinics, in group practices, and in hospital settings, helping patients with a range of issues. To become an addiction counselor, someone must generally complete a training program which includes familiarization with chemical dependence, psychology, legal issues, and various treatments available to people struggling with addictions.

Addiction counselor might help heroin addicts.
Addiction counselor might help heroin addicts.

Many people think of drug dependence on substances like heroin when they hear the word “addiction,” but addiction counselors also work with people who are addicted to gambling, shopping, and other activities. Addiction counselors handle patients with dependencies on a wide variety of substances as well, not necessarily just illegal drugs. For example, an addiction counselor might help someone quit smoking or drinking, or assist patients with dependence on pharmaceuticals, including pharmaceuticals acquired legally by prescription.

An addiction counselor may help people who are addicted to shopping.
An addiction counselor may help people who are addicted to shopping.

Some addiction counselors choose to specialize in a particular area of interest, while others cover a range of addictions. In all cases, addiction counselors meet with patients in private and group settings to provide therapy, talk about ongoing issues, and develop treatment plans. Addiction counselors can also work with family members and facilitate family communication, in addition to running addiction programs which can range from residential facilities for treatment to community meetings held to help people cope with addiction.

Addiction counselors may be needed to help people addicted to prescription painkillers.
Addiction counselors may be needed to help people addicted to prescription painkillers.

Every addiction counselor has a unique approach to treatment, which is usually tailored to the needs of the patient. Many addiction counselors believe that addictions cannot be cured, but only managed, and treatment is focused on accepting this and providing patients with tools to manage addiction. Addiction counselors can provide referrals to other health care providers who may help an addicted person deal with health issues, and they can also work as part of a patient care team.

An addiction counselor may be needed to treat alcoholism.
An addiction counselor may be needed to treat alcoholism.

Addiction counseling can be very demanding. Transference can be a problem for many health care professionals, and in the case of addiction counseling, a patient may turn a dependence on a substance or activity into a dependence on an addiction counselor. While addiction counselors need to be able to help their patients, they must also be able to obtain professional distance.

Some counselors work with people who have become homeless as a result of an addiction.
Some counselors work with people who have become homeless as a result of an addiction.

This kind of work requires empathy, patience, and a high commitment to confidentiality. Addiction counselors must establish trusting relationships with their clients, and adhere to very high ethical standards. Many belong to professional organizations which offer certification to addiction counselors along with continuing education opportunities which keep people informed about developments in the field and topics of interest.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001511

I am getting ready to start my degree this fall to become an addiction counselor. There are some places that will take people without even any college experience however, I have been researching this career for quite some time now. I found out like her than I want to go farther than just a AAS degree, but for the time being I'll start with just that. I agree with oasis11 about the positive habits replacing bad ones, because I am myself am a recovering addiction. I will be a year clean on my oldest sons birthday on the 5th of next month. I didn't have much hope back then and I was struggling with it for around five years. But now I want to help others straighten out their lives like I am.

oasis11

@SauteePan -I also know that many addiction counselors work in outpatient facilities. In addition to the counseling services they also have to provide progress reports and offer required paperwork to the courts and law enforcement agencies.

A positive outlook is important because many these patients have lost hope that their circumstances will change for the better.

Offering proper prospective helps these patients gain traction and develop positive habits that will replace the negative habits that got them in trouble in the first place.

A certified addiction counselor will offer a series of cognitive behavioral therapy in order to change learned behavioral patterns.

SauteePan

I had a friend who was a drug addiction counselor and had a Bachelor’s degree with a Certified Addiction Counselor certificate.

She worked in a hospital primarily dealing with people that had prescription drug addictions. She was working on her Masters Degree in order to earn a higher salary because her salary was only $36,000 a year.

I always thought that these positions required a Masters degree, but I guess I was wrong because she did not need one for her position as a substance abuse counselor.

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    • An addiction counselor can help people with a gambling addiction.
      By: Mariusz Blach
      An addiction counselor can help people with a gambling addiction.
    • Addiction counselor might help heroin addicts.
      By: Richard Villalon
      Addiction counselor might help heroin addicts.
    • An addiction counselor may help people who are addicted to shopping.
      By: mangostock
      An addiction counselor may help people who are addicted to shopping.
    • Addiction counselors may be needed to help people addicted to prescription painkillers.
      By: Feng Yu
      Addiction counselors may be needed to help people addicted to prescription painkillers.
    • An addiction counselor may be needed to treat alcoholism.
      By: kmiragaya
      An addiction counselor may be needed to treat alcoholism.
    • Some counselors work with people who have become homeless as a result of an addiction.
      By: Halfpoint
      Some counselors work with people who have become homeless as a result of an addiction.
    • Some residential substance abuse treatments are conducted in hospital settings.
      By: Monkey Business
      Some residential substance abuse treatments are conducted in hospital settings.
    • An addiction counselor can be helpful to someone who is trying to quit smoking.
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      An addiction counselor can be helpful to someone who is trying to quit smoking.
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