How Do I Become an Addictions Counselor?

| Staff Writers

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Addictions counselors, also referred to as substance abuse counselors, are counseling professionals who advise individuals with alcoholism or other types of drug addiction to support their recovery. Addictions counselors are typically responsible for evaluating clients’ mental health, developing treatment goals, recommending treatment options, helping individuals modify behaviors for recovery, educating families on how to cope with addiction behaviors, and/or referring clients to other supportive resources in the community. Due to the fact that these professionals often deal with clients in crisis situations and have a large impact on the lives of others, it is necessary for addictions counselors to be highly trained. For those aspiring to this rewarding career, the following are the steps necessary to get on the path towards being a successful addictions counselor.

Educational Requirements

Depending on the specific work setting, state regulations, and level of responsibility in certain counseling roles, the educational requirements for addictions counselors varies greatly. While some positions can be found in the current mental healthcare market for counselors with a high school diploma and certification, the vast majority must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree for practice. Of course, addictions counselors who have completed the highest levels of education are more adept at providing more extensive services to clients and require less supervision when compared to those with less education. When choosing a graduate program to become a substance abuse counselor, it is highly recommended to select a degree that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).


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Field Training and Work Experience

Although the majority of theoretical counseling techniques are learned within the classroom, it is essential that addictions counselors gain real-world training in the field to learn how to effectively deal with a crisis situation or interact with families. Along with completing practicum and internship experience in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program, substance abuse counselors are often required to complete a minimum of 2,000 to 3,000 total hours of supervised clinical experience before practicing in the field. Usually, fieldwork is conducted in a wide range of substance abuse counseling settings, including outpatient mental health centers, residential substance abuse facilities, individual/family services, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, employee assistance programs, government agencies, and hospitals.

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Licensure and Certification

For addictions counselors to practice in the profession, most states require the professionals to complete licensure and/or certification in substance abuse counseling. Although the exact requirements vary from state to state, it is generally required that the counselors pass a state-recognized certification examination and maintain continuing education coursework annually. Through the National Board for Certified Counselors, individuals can earn the Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) credential by completing at least three years of supervised experience and passing the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC).

While there is some variation in how to become an addictions counselor depending on a particular work setting, it is always necessary for these counseling professionals to possess strong listening and communication skills, patience, compassion, and respect. After fostering these essential qualities and completing the above requirements, addictions counselors can fulfill in-demand roles providing treatment therapy to clients with substance abuse problems in a variety of mental health settings. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in the field will rapidly grow faster than average by 27 percent before 2020, it is an excellent time to start building an addictions counselor career to make a difference in the lives of many.

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