Few things are as destructive as addiction. Addiction can turn people into the worst versions of themselves and quickly shatter a “normal” life of productivity and responsibility. One of the most important ports in the storm of addiction are addiction counselors. These professionals often make the difference between worsening addiction and stable recovery for many addicts, and the professional field is constantly growing. What role do addiction counselors play in recovery, and is the job a good fit for you?

Is addiction a serious problem in the United States?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2017 found that roughly 20 million adults in the United States struggled with a substance use disorder. More than 70% of those adults battled alcohol use disorder, while roughly 30% of them struggled with drug use disorders. The two were not mutually exclusive, however, with one out of every eight adults living with both drug and alcohol use disorders at the same time. Many addicts also struggle with mental health, with approximately one-half of the 20 million adults addicted in 2017 also struggling with a mental health disorder.

In terms of financial cost, drug addiction and abuse cost more than $740 billion per year in healthcare expenses, lost workplace productivity and crime-related expenses.

What leads to addiction?

There are several factors behind addiction. According to the NSDUH, genetics account for up to 60% of your risk of addiction, while environmental factors further increase the risk. Some of the environmental factors that raise addiction risk include:

  • Domestic abuse in the home
  • An unstable domestic environment
  • Parents who use drugs
  • A community where drug use is common
  • Peer pressure

Drug use is also tied to poor academic achievement, but the issue is more complicated than it may seem. Does drug use lead to poor academic achievement, or does poor academic achievement lead to drug use? The relationship between the two is clear, but the exact nature of the relationship is still under debate.

Finally, people with mental health disorders face an increased risk of drug addiction and abuse compared to other populations.

What are substance abuse and addiction counselors?

Substance abuse and addiction counselors, often referred to simply as “addiction counselors”, are mental health professionals specializing in addiction care. They treat people with a dependence on alcohol and drugs, but they also help people struggling with other types of addictions, such as gambling. These professionals understand the close ties that mental health and addiction have and can help addicts see a way out of their current situation.

Addiction counselors work in several different professional settings. From state and federal agencies to community mental health centers, there is no shortage of opportunities. Some of the most common places to find addiction counselors include:

  • Centers for substance abuse treatment
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient mental health services
  • Detox centers
  • Sober residences
  • Correctional facilities
  • Schools and colleges

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse and addiction counseling, behavioral disorder counseling and mental health counseling are expected to grow collectively by roughly 22% over the decade from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the general average for other occupations.

The median wage is around $50,000 per year, but that pertains to counselors who entered the field with only a bachelor’s degree rather than those with more advanced degrees.

Why are addiction counselors important?

Addiction counseling is important because addicts and the people who love them often suffer mentally and physically. These professionals are often instrumental in helping addicts and their loved ones recover together.

There is no cure for addiction. Even alcoholics who haven’t had a drop to drink in a decade are still addicts – but they’re addicts in recovery. Their addiction might be considered to be in remission. During this time, they often regain the ability to go to school or work and build healthy relationships with friends and family. Addicts are sometimes able to rebuild social ties and re-enter society with the help of addiction recovery counselors.

It is important to note that because addiction and other mental health disorders are so closely tied, addicts typically have an underlying condition fueling their substance abuse (or, in the case of gambling addicts, their obsessive behavior). Without an understanding of the issues that drive them to use, addicts often fall out of recovery and relapse. A competent addiction counselor can draw those connections and help addicts understand why they use and how to fix the underlying cause.

If addicts do relapse, an effective addiction counselor can help them return to recovery and identify their unique triggers. They can extend a helping hand and put addicts on the road to recovery, whether it is their first time or their fifth.

Is addiction counseling a good career for you?

Addiction counseling is not the best choice for everyone, but it can be an incredibly fulfilling career for those who are motivated to help other people. Addiction and mental health counseling change lives and strengthen communities, making a difference in countless people’s lives over time. It is a unique career path that allows you to see the difference you are making as you watch those you’ve helped travel down the road of recovery and rebuild their relationships with other people.

However, addiction counseling also requires a level head and emotional strength. Not only will your patients likely be volatile at times, especially at the beginning of their journey, but sometimes you simply won’t be able to get through to them. Despite your best efforts, you will almost assuredly see some of those you’ve invested hours into helping relapse. While this can be heartbreaking, the reality is that most people with whom you interact will ultimately be grateful for the help.

Is addiction counseling the right career for you? If you are driven to help others, have the determination to persevere even in light of challenges, and have a level head to recover from potential disappointments, addiction counseling might be a good job for you.

What education do I need to become an addiction counselor?

Because they work with such vulnerable populations, addiction counselors must complete extensive training and education before they can begin working. The exact details of these requirements differ from state to state, but many of them share a few common requirements.

First, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree to become an addiction counselor. Again, this will vary depending on where you are located, but this degree is generally the minimum education requirement to even consider becoming an addiction counselor. Before you choose a course to study, it is a good idea to look up state-specific certification and licensure information.

For most prospective addiction counselors, a master’s degree is the goal; a CACREP-accredited program is typically required. Also known as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, CACREP is the premier accreditation institution determining the credibility and quality of graduate counseling programs.

Some universities, such as Walsh University, offer extensive clinical mental health and addiction counseling programs that have been evaluated and approved by CACREP. Unfortunately, other universities offer programs that are not accredited, which significantly lowers their value. Make sure that you choose a program that has been approved by CACREP if you are interested in addiction counseling.

Once you successfully complete your master’s degree, you will need to apply for your certification. This can usually be done online, although you will need to reach out to your state’s department of education for more details if your university doesn’t walk you through it. When your application has been approved, you will receive a statement of eligibility. This means that you are eligible for certification and you are able to begin working.

Addiction counseling jobs by degree

The jobs you are eligible for depend largely on the degree you hold. If you only have a bachelor’s degree, for example, you could be looking at the following potential jobs:

  • Substance abuse prevention coordinator
  • Health educator
  • Social services coordinator
  • Correctional treatment specialist

If you are interested in jobs that dive a bit more in-depth, you should consider an advanced degree. A master’s degree such as the one described above opens up the following possibilities:

  • Advanced alcohol and drug/addiction counselor
  • Clinical mental health counselor
  • School counselor
  • Co-occurring disorder counselor
  • Private practice therapist
  • Social service manager

These job choices are more advanced than the positions available for candidates with only a bachelor’s degree.

Are you interested in becoming an addiction counselor? Keep this information in mind as you dig into the field and find the perfect job for your future.

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