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Do You Have What It Takes to Become An Addiction Counselor? The Key Traits and Qualifications of a Successful Drug & Alcohol Counselor

addiction counselor

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As of September 2019, around 19.7 million Americans battle a drug or alcohol addiction.

This is probably why the job outlook for addiction counselors is on the rise at a projected growth of 23 percent for the next 10 years, which is much higher than the national average. (According to the BLS, as of September 2019)

Interested in becoming an addiction counselor? Let’s find out what it takes to be a successful drug and alcohol counselor!

What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?

Addiction (or substance abuse) counselors help assess and follow treatment plans for clients with addiction issues. All patients are different, so the counselor needs to work with each individual to help customize treatment plans.

Counselors meet regularly with clients to help them recover and also work with individuals facing a crisis.

Addiction counselors teach their clients to change their beliefs and attitudes. They also help addicts overcome healthier mechanisms. Many addicts will relapse, so addiction counselors need to work with clients long after they recover from the initial addiction.

Other duties include:

  • Identifying issues and creating goals and treatment plans
  • Referring clients to various support groups
  • Leading therapy sessions both group and individual
  • Helping clients find a job or career
  • Update reports for the courts
  • Meeting with family members for support and also guidance

Counselors can also arrange medical interventions and other long-term addiction management support for families and addicts.

Valuable Skills for an Addiction Counselor

Because you will be dealing with some difficult situations, it’s important to have various personality traits in order to succeed with patients.

Here are a few characteristics that make a good substance abuse counselor:

  • Good listener
  • Strong desire to help others
  • Confidence
  • Motivation
  • Inspiration
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Respect privacy

Counselors deal with individuals facing different circumstances and various backgrounds. A good counselor can empathize and sympathize with each patient to better understand the differences each patient is facing. You can’t learn most of these personality traits in school. 

You will develop relationships with your clients. You may have to go above and beyond to help them at times. You have to know your boundaries, so you don’t enable behaviors.

It is very important that you are non-judgemental and do not criticize mistakes in a client’s past. You want your clients to be open with you and feel like they can approach you even if they have a relapse. Good addiction counselors build a trusting relationship with clients.

You will also need to know how to handle stress. Addiction counselors have a high rate of job burnout because of the difficulty in their work. Clients can relapse multiple times.

You will need to know how to manage this stress and not let it get you down. Addiction counselors can easily develop depression. Good life and work balance are necessary for the field of addiction.

Research skills are also important. Addiction counselors use research to incorporate theories and data into practice. 

Counselors with Past Addictions

If you have experienced addiction in your life and are in recovery, you may be able to really connect to other clients in a way some counselors cannot. It can be really beneficial for someone to talk to a counselor that truly understands what he or she is going through.

You may also be able to provide some valuable insight from your experience. In order to be a counselor, you have to make sure that you will not relapse. It may be difficult for some people to be around others with addiction problems, so really think about your situation and how you will cope.

Education and Training

The needed training, education, and license for a substance abuse counselor vary between states. You will need a mental-health degree and some supervised experience with counseling.

You will need the following to be a substance abuse counselor:

  1. Accredited degree
  2. Supervised clinical hours
  3. Felony and child abuse background check
  4. Passing score on a licensing or certification exam


You may need different levels of degrees depending on where you practice. Some settings require only an Associate degree while most require a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, or even a Doctorate degree. You should look for programs in sociology, psychology, or counseling.

You need to be able to understand the physical and mental effects of substance abuse. There are some programs that are specific to addiction counseling.


You may not need a certification if you have a Master’s degree but it is usually recommended. Certification can show your skills and motivation to succeed when you are looking for a job.


You will need the experience to help you learn your skills. This comes with time. After you get your degree and/or educational requirements, you are required to fulfill a certain number of hours of supervised work in a counseling setting. 

After you complete your supervised training, you will become a licensed substance abuse counselor. This takes about 24 months on average.

Career Paths

You have to decide what career path you want before choosing your degree and certification. If you have a Master’s degree, you may be able to more places including private practice.

You can also choose to specialize as much as you want. You can choose a certain type of addiction or demographic. Addiction counselors work in the following settings:

  • Individual and family services
  • Local and state governments
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient recovery centers
  • Residential mental health abuse centers

If you want to work with teenagers or children, you could work for an after-school program or even at a school or university. This is why it’s important to figure out your career path to help guide your education, training, specialization, and certification.

Interested in Becoming an Addiction Counselor?

Being an addiction counselor can be a rewarding career. You have a direct impact on people’s lives, and you can truly make a difference. The job outlook has a high rate of growth, so with the right training, you should have job security.

Ready to start your training to be an addiction counselor? Contact InterCoast today to learn more about our addiction counseling programs.

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Jessica A Hamill
Jessica A Hamill
2 years ago

This is an INCREDIBLE article! Thank you..

2 years ago

Thanks, helpful!!!

Jessie martinez
Jessie martinez
2 years ago

how to be able to have better communication skills as a LCDC-I

Triesta Stone
Triesta Stone
2 years ago

Amazing I wondered if I would be able to work in this field with past issues. I have q2 credits left until I graduate

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