Drug and Alcohol Addiction: 9 Tips for How to Become a Drug Counselor

Drug and Alcohol Addiction: 9 Tips for How to Become a Drug Counselor

Did you know that of the 21 million Americans suffering from addiction, only approximately 10% of them are receiving help? Are you the kind of person that wants to provide that help?

Maybe you’re a recovering addict or alcoholic, or you have a loved one in your life who’s experiencing addiction. Maybe you just have a lot of empathy for those who are struggling with their problems.

You might want to know how to become a drug counselor so you can help these people firsthand. 

Being a drug abuse counselor is a lot of work and you’ll experience a lot of heartache in the process. That said, it’s fulfilling work and you’ll learn a lot about yourself, your clients, and the world of mental health in the process. 

Are you interested? We want to show you how. 

Keep reading to learn 9 of our best tips that can help you on your path towards becoming an alcohol and drug counselor. 

Why Become an Alcohol and Drug Counselor? 

So why would anyone want to become a drug abuse counselor anyway? As we mentioned, it’s hard work, and it can often be thankless and distressing. 

When we’re in the middle of an opioid epidemic in the United States, you can tell there’s a tremendous need for help. You can be a part of that help. 

Addicts outnumber counselors by the tens of thousands, which means there are endless opportunities to help people in this field. The Alcohol and Drug Counseling field is experiencing job growth at the moment, meaning that the job opportunities are there because there is demand.

It also allows room to specialize and move around the country if you choose and obtain the proper education and certification. Most large cities can benefit from more counselors.

In short, you’ll be giving yourself opportunities to help while also ensuring that you can find a job anywhere as long as you have the proper certifications for that area. This is important because not all states require the same education and have the same certifications.  It is important you research this information before you enroll in a training program.  

So, how do you get started? 

1. Do Your Research

The first step is often the most important, and in this case, it’s a big deal. 

Before you go taking notes on requirements and signing up for classes, do your research to learn what the job actually entails, especially in your local area. 

Different counselors serve different purposes. They can also work in different locations. Some may work in a drug rehabilitation center while others may work with other types of counselors, in youth centers, or even in treatment centers.

Digging deep into the career before you begin can help you learn whether or not the job is for you. It can help remove any rose-colored glasses that you could be wearing prior to getting started and prepare you for what’s to come. 

2. Talk to Professionals

Talking to people who are already in the field can be part of your research period. While they’re unable to talk about specific client situations, they can give you a good idea of what you should anticipate when you’re getting started.

They can give you the real ups and downs of working as an alcohol and drug counselor and tell you things that you might not be able to learn online.

Finding someone who can offer guidance and advice in this area is valuable. 

3. Learn About Education Requirements

Not all states have the same requirements for alcohol and drug counseling. Requirements also vary depending on the “level” of the career that you want to reach. Starting at one level and then later moving to the next when you’re ready to continue your education is an option. 

You can begin with an Associate’s of Applied Sciences in alcohol and drug and counseling studies, also known as substance use disorder counseling.  For example, in California, this associate’s degree can prepare you to move into the field without completing a bachelor’s degree. This program will provide you with all of the background information and skills to jump into your new career.

For different specialties and “levels”, you may be required to continue your education and get a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree, but starting with a certificate or associate’s from a school approved by the certifying body is required in California.  Other states have other requirements.

4. Earn Your Associate’s Degree in Substance Use Disorder Counseling

Earning your associate’s degree is the first “hard part” of the career. You’re going to want to pick a comprehensive program and provide the guidance and experience that you’re going to need to start a successful career in substance use disorder counseling.  You must pick a program from a school approved by the certifying body; otherwise, you may not qualify to sit for the certification examination when it comes time to do so.  

In an associate’s degree program, some classes can be done online, only requiring “in-person” visits for on-the-job experiences, such as the program’s clinical internship segment. This is a great choice for anyone interested in a career transition but cannot completely take a break from work or young children’s parents. Many students attend while working and can be home to take care of their children.

5. Complete Your Required Clinical Hours

Before you get started in the field you’re going to need hours of supervised alcohol and drug counseling work. Some of this may be more like “shadowing” while some will be working with clients on your own under the supervision of a clinical supervisor or experienced alcohol and drug counselor. The number of hours required depends on which certification body you 

This is where you finally learn whether or not this path is for you (though by this point you should have a good idea). Working with clients is different from reading about skills in books. 

This “real-life” training will prepare you for the trials and tribulations of drug and alcohol counseling while still giving you “training wheels”. The experience will be enlightening and is a necessary part of your journey. 

6. Pass Any Necessary Background Checks

Whenever you’re working one-on-one with at-risk people (especially true with minors) you’re going to be required to undergo a background check

Someone will take your fingerprints and complete an advanced online background check to make sure that you’re a safe candidate for the job. The background check will typically look for a history of felonies or child abuse. You may be required to undergo a background check before you can obtain your certification.  Each certification organization may operate differently, so it is a good idea to contact the organization for their certification requirements beyond completion of education from an approved college and the completion of clinical internship hours.

7. Pass Necessary Examination

Once you’re done with your college or certification training programs, you’re going to be taking exams to ensure that you’re ready to go out on your own and to give you the ability to work.  In California, you will take the IC&RC examination to become certified through CCAPP.

If you’ve done all of the work to get to this point, this exam shouldn’t stand in your way.  Many colleges will offer a preparation course or workshop to be prepared for the type of questions that will be asked in this certification examination.  If you fail, you can retake it. It’s suggested that you take a review course.  Some colleges offer the review free of charge to its graduates.  

8. Find Your Place for Work

As we mentioned, there are several job opportunities when it comes to working as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Consider your preferences. Would you rather work with adults or children and teenagers? Would you want to work in a treatment center, or would you prefer something along the lines of a group home? There may even be opportunities for remote work to help clients who are unable or unwilling to travel for services. 

Which environment is going to be more fulfilling for you?

After this, the job application is standard. It may be worth your while to do some networking either alone or through your instructors or career services coordinators from the college to get your foot in the door. 

9. Continue Your Education

Your work isn’t done once you’ve found a job. It’s important to keep up with modern trends in alcohol and drug counseling and mental health if you want to offer your clients the best possible help.

There are several ways that you can go about this, and not all of them include more school (although some do. More on that later). 

All industries have conferences for the people within them, and these conferences are important. They allow Alcohol and Drug Counselors to network with others in the same fields from all over the state or even the country, gaining new knowledge and information from peer-to-peer interactions.

Conferences also often have panels with skilled veterans of the field that can help you further your education. 

If conferences aren’t enough for you, getting more certifications within the field of drug and alcohol counseling can help you specialize or increase your ability to move up from your current position. You may want to focus on youth support, for example, and an extra certification can help with that.

If you’re even more motivated you may want to opt for further education in college. You can opt for a bachelor’s degree with a specification in addiction studies or even a double major to include a social work or standard psychology track. 

Those who want to move to the top of the field will benefit from a Master’s or Doctorate degree. You may be able to work on these degree programs while you’re on the job. If you’re lucky, you may receive funding from your workplace. 

How to Start in the Field of Alcohol and Drug Counseling: Are You Up to the Challenge? 

Have you learned enough about becoming an alcohol and drug counselor to get started on your journey? It’s a tough path and a challenging career, but you can find fulfillment despite the challenges through helping others on their addiction journeys. 

If you’re interested in seeking out education to get started, visit our site. Request information about starting your Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies program today.


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