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15 Reasons Why Recovered Addicts Make Good Counselors

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Addiction is an awful thing for anyone to go through. Drug and addiction counselors serve as a critical part of an addict’s recovery journey.

Counselors support the treatment plans, help addicts through the struggle, and provide guidance during the difficult times. While many who have completed the required training and certification as applicable may be qualified to do this work, it’s can be even more special when a recovering addict is working with you.

Read on to learn fifteen reasons that recovered addicts make great counselors.

1. Personal Experience

Let’s start with the most obvious reason that becoming substance use disorder counselor can be one of the best jobs for recovering addicts because they have been in the shoes of those struggling with addiction before. They understand what it was like to be the person who had to seek help for a problem that was impacting all aspects of their lives, including their job, family, and friends. They know what worked for them as they tried different treatment plans.  They also know first hand how important it is to follow a plan so that relapse is likely not to occur. Some people believe there are some things you would rather hear from a person who has experienced the struggle instead of applying what is learned in a book.

2. Additional Credibility

Because they’ve been down this road before, they also might have some additional credibility with their clients.

It can be hard for people who are at their lowest to think that someone else can possibly understand what they’re going through. They might lash out at their counselor by saying that they couldn’t possibly understand their struggles.

Here’s the thing — it’s much harder to say that to someone who has traveled a similar road.

3. Build Trust

Trust is an incredibly important part of the counselor/client relationship. Without a strong foundation of trust, it’s can be impossible to have the conversations you need to move treatment forward.

There are lots of different ways to build trust in this kind of professional relationship. The shared experience is one way to do so.

There are different opinions about it and when a counselor should share that they’re a recovering addict. It’s not always best to say that right away.

In certain situations, though, that kind of disclosure can inspire a trust that wasn’t there before.

4. Easily Empathize

Good counselors also need to be good listeners. If they want to really help their clients, they have to be able to understand to the rants, the worries, the fears, and the anger.

This isn’t an easy job to be in, so you need to be able to empathize with the people you’re helping. Without empathy, you may not be as successful as a substance use disorder counselor.

Recovering addicts can easily empathize with the person across from them. They can often relate to the human experience, not just the disorder, and respond accordingly.

5. Carry the Message of Step 12

Anyone who has made it all the way through higher education and a counseling certification program has probably completed the twelve steps of recovery. The twelfth step, which is explained as a type of spiritual awakening, encourages recovered addicts to go out and spread the message to others.

When you’re just starting your sober journey, getting to step twelve can seem impossible. Recovering addicts can personally carry the message of step twelve, helping clients understand why the steps are all so important.

6. Find a Rewarding Career

For the people in recovery, they have reported that it can be difficult to transition to a new life and find a new purpose.

They have stressed the need to manage their own time and emotions to ensure their own recovery success. Recovery is ongoing work, and helping others can also provide the reinforcement message for self. Being a substance use disorder counselor is a rewarding career for those in recovery and reminds them the importance the journey was to them. Plus, while some treatment centers may shy away from hiring those who have been in treatment themselves, the same addicts, the same stigma is not as prevalent in substance use disorder counseling positions.

7. High-Stress Tolerance

We can’t sugarcoat it — being a substance use disorder counselor is a challenging job. While it would be great to think that your clients will always love you and will come to each session in a great mood and ready to share, that’s not always the case.

Even people that are seeking help may not be as cooperative and follow the path to recovery outlined for them.  This is a stressful job, especially if one of your clients relapses. You’ll need a high-stress tolerance to do this well — sometimes those with experience can develop tolerance to the type of work and behaviors they may face in the job.

8. Referrals within the Community

Recovery is an individual journey, but it also takes a village to help get someone on the right path again. One of the main struggles people might face is leaving the friend group or community that encouraged the use in the first place.

A person in recovery has faced this same problem. As they’ve continued on their own recovery journeys, they’ve also created their own new communities — people who have overcome their addiction, and who understand the support and care that others need to make it through.

If their clients need to talk to someone outside of a professional setting or are looking for additional help, they often are a good referral to community-based programs and support groups that worked for them.  

9. Provide Guidance to Family Members

The family of a former addict is also on this journey with them. Even though the person in recovery is the one responsible for making the choice to enter recovery, family members are often closely involved.

If they’ve already watched their loved one cycle through periods of sobriety and addiction, they might be wondering if this time is different. It’s hard to know what you can do to help — or if anything you do helps at all.

Those in recovery who become substance use disorder counselors can shed light on the process and can give family members some more guidance. They can also be an example of where their loved one can end up if they really commit.

10. Build Stability through Routine

People who become substance use disorder counselors often need routine and stability in their own lives.  Working as a substance use disorder counselor can help others develop this normalcy for themselves. They know how how to create and keep a calendar full of events that will support their efforts toward recovery and can, in turn, teach others who are entering recovery.  

11. Provide a Needed Service

Let’s face it — there’s currently a drug epidemic in the United States.

We’re facing record-high numbers of overdoses, prescription drug abuse, and people who need help treating their addictions. Now more than ever, we need substance use disorder counselors.

People who have been affected by addiction before are often the ones who are most likely to choose this career. The field needs more substance use disorder counselors to help with the growing problem of drug abuse in the U.S., and those who have experienced the pain and suffering associated with addiction are likely candidates for these positions.

12. Share Past Successes

Sometimes, the best motivation is hearing what can be possible. If you have struggled with addiction yourself and entered recovery and now are working in the field of substance use disorder counseling, you likely have shared your own successes with clients. These personal examples can inspire and help those suffering from addiction get on their own roads to recovery.

Sharing your struggles can also be helpful since it shows that you are not alone.

13. Find Meaning in Your Journey

Even people who have been clean for years sometimes need a reminder of what it all means.  If you need motivation outside of “it’s the right thing to do for me,” being a substance use disorder counselor for others can be a way to find meaning in your own life. The struggles you have faced are experiences that can help others in their journey to recovery. Not only are you doing what may be right for your life, but you’re also helping others find a career that works for them.

14. Give Back to the Community

As the saying goes, “Never forget where you came from”.  As you find meaning in your personal journey and help others through their own, those in recovery are able to give back through their own experiences. In many cases, they might be able to help the communities in which they live. This is a fulfilling career to have and one where counselors can simultaneously give back.

15. Focus on Personal Recovery

Going through the certification process to be a substance use disorder counselor can help those in recovery focus on their own journeys. They would be working in a position that requires them to be dedicated, focused, and one hundred percent committed to recovery.

Not only would they be putting their own lives at risk by relapsing, but other people rely on them as role models and professional resources.

Having a substance use disorder counselor that is in recovery can be beneficial for both the counselor and the client.

Those in Recovery Can Make a Difference

Addiction is a difficult thing to come back from. For those who are able to make it through, becoming a counselor can seem like a natural next step.

Having people who have been in the same position before can be a huge help for people who are just entering their journey toward recovery. Sound like a job you would be interested in? Start your program with us today.

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1 year ago

I am reading this article because it comes up when searching for a counselor who is a recovering addict. Do you know of a resource or database where I could look up recovering counselors/therapists?

5 months ago

This may not be as simple a premise as it seems. There’s no research that conclusively states recovering counselors are better than non-recovering, or self-recovering. It comes down to how much one feels about doing this work, and how good one wants to be at it. I’ve supervised recovering and non-recovering counselors, and they can be great or mediocre. What we shouldn’t see, though, are any negative perceptions of education and licensing in the addictions field, i.e., that somehow “book-learning”, as it were, is not an effective way to develop one’s skills compared to a purported experiential knowledge and awareness.… Read more »

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