Over the course of your lifetime, you are likely to encounter many people whose lives are affected by addiction. It may be because they are addicted, or someone they know and love is struggling with an addiction.
Suppose you decide to pursue the rewarding career of addiction counseling. Many will likely come to you for help and guidance in fighting and recovering from addictions.
Addiction counselors specialize in psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Their main goal is to help people identify and change behaviors that may lead to substance abuse or other self-destructive habits.
While addiction counseling can encompass all aspects of an individual’s life, some clear responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of addiction counselors and therapists.
What is an addiction counselor?
An addiction counselor is a professional who helps people struggling with addiction. They do this by talking to them and teaching them skills to live a healthy life without drugs or alcohol.
An addiction counselor can also help their client work through the underlying causes of their addiction. To be an effective counselor, you need to have a lot of education and experience working with people struggling with addiction.
You also need skills to build healthy relationships between yourself and your clients. You can gain these skills by enrolling in a combined honors BA in criminology and policing at Wilfrid Laurier University.
The degree combines theory-based coursework with hands-on experiences, like internships and practicums. After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier, you will have gained the necessary qualifications for a career as an addiction counselor.
The top roles of an addiction counselor
Every addict has a story about how they became dependent on a drug and its consequences on their lives. But what happens when they decide to get sober?
Addiction counselors play an essential role in helping addicts recover through outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation programs. Read on to learn more about some of their most significant roles.
Evaluate the extent of the addiction
Anyone addicted to drugs or alcohol at some point in their life will tell you how deep the addiction can get. Some drug and alcohol addicts may be able to quit without professional help, but for others, it can be near impossible.
Addictions counselors are trained professionals who provide guidance and support during a difficult time. They have the skills to evaluate the extent of the addiction and assess its severity with questionnaires and interviews.
After clearly understanding the addict’s situation, they can recommend appropriate treatment options. For instance, if someone has a mild dependency on marijuana, they might only need therapy sessions to learn more about their addiction.
However, a detox program would be more appropriate if someone has a severe cocaine problem affecting their work performance and social life. An addiction counselor can evaluate these options by suggesting programs that best suit the individual’s needs.
Highlight negative behaviors or reactions
When someone is recovering from addiction, finding a counselor who understands and is experienced in that addiction is crucial. A good counselor can help them to identify the negative behaviors or reactions that led to the addiction and guide them through making positive changes.
One example is when clients begin to feel that they are all alone in the world because everyone else can live without addiction. The counselor might then explain that it is okay for the client to have these feelings and that working through them is essential to move on from addiction.
The counselor will also work with the client to create a plan that best suits their needs and situation. Some counselors will use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques during therapy sessions and recommend outside support groups.
Addiction counselors support their clients as they work through addiction and its related problems. They also work to create a supportive environment to help the client feel safe and understood.
Addictions counselors can also help clients with addiction-related physical and psychological issues, such as withdrawal or co-occurring mental health disorders. For example, if someone is addicted to drugs and has stopped taking them, the counselor may help them cope with cravings.
These techniques can also be helpful if someone is in recovery but struggling to avoid relapse. In these cases the addiction counselor may need to intervene more actively, such as by advising on what to do when cravings occur.
An essential part of this job is helping clients learn new skills that can eventually replace destructive behaviors caused by addiction. It may involve everything from getting good at handling intense feelings to developing better self-care habits like spending time in nature or using mindfulness exercises.
Help patients cope with withdrawal symptoms
An addiction counselor’s primary responsibility is to help patients cope with withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse and teach them how to live a sober lifestyle. One way they can do this is by visiting them at their homes.
Doing so allows the counselor to talk to the patient comfortably and ensure they have all the necessary resources to maintain sobriety. In addition, many counselors also provide education about various methods of coping with the withdrawal period.
For instance, some may recommend exercise or mindfulness-based activities such as yoga or meditation. Some people also find it helpful to attend 12-step meetings, where others who share their experiences can offer advice and support for staying clean.
Once patients are stable enough on medication, counselors will work with them to develop strategies for living without drugs and alcohol.
Conduct individual and group therapy sessions
Individual therapy sessions can be done one-on-one with the client and are great for discussing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Group sessions allow clients to share their experiences with other group members while allowing the counselor to observe interactions between members.
An addiction counselor may conduct either individual or group sessions, depending on the client’s needs and the nature of the treatment. The counselor must be a good listener and understand what people are going through.
This involves personal work, such as individual sessions providing support for a person who is struggling with addiction. Addiction counselors also conduct group therapy sessions on co-dependency and how it relates to the individual’s addiction.
These sessions can help the group members recognize their emotions and how they can deal with them independently. For example, co-dependency classes allow people to remember when they are in a codependent relationship and teach them how to move forward.
Educating patients about addiction
Most people seeking addiction help come to their therapist confused and misunderstanding what addiction is. It can be helpful for counselors to educate their patients about addiction, as this can open up conversation and develop a trusting relationship.
This often includes educating patients about addiction’s physical and psychological aspects and specific treatments and techniques. An addiction counselor will also encourage clients to change their lifestyles, mental outlooks, goals, values and attitudes.
Counselors must also know how the patient’s addiction has impacted their life to assess treatment needs better. When patients understand the basics of addiction, it makes it easier for them to discuss their problems and create solutions.
Setting treatment goals with patients
As part of a treatment plan, addiction counselors will help prepare goals that the client is working toward shortly. These goals are set with the client and tailored to their needs. However, they are written by the counselor after discussion with the patient.
For example, if the patient wants to lose weight, the counselor will help them set daily calorie and exercise goals. The counselor will assist in such a case, and put together the goals they feel can help the patient attain their desired rehabilitation results.
That way, the patient will be ready to work out what goals and objectives they want to achieve in a program of recovery. Once established, a counselor will likely use these goals for motivation throughout their recovery program.
Helping patients develop coping mechanisms
Counselors play a vital role in the recovery process. They assist patients in developing coping mechanisms and maintaining sobriety by providing support, information and encouragement.
Coping mechanisms are essential for those dealing with addiction because they allow them to deal with their life without resorting to substance abuse. Counselors must ensure they are helping the patient develop appropriate coping mechanisms.
For example, if a client is dealing with addiction from using alcohol as a coping mechanism, their counselor may recommend exercise or journal writing to help you work through their feelings.
That said, only some coping mechanisms are appropriate for some people. If one does not seem to be working, the client should feel free to consult their counselor about how else they might get through difficult times.
Skills you need to become an addiction counselor
Addiction is a significant problem for millions of people around the world. It typically starts with alcohol or illegal drugs but can be caused by anything from gambling to sex.
It means that addiction counselors are in constant need, especially for people with substance abuse problems. To help you become an addict counselor, here are some skills you will need:
An excellent understanding of human nature
You must see patterns across the entire population and identify why someone is struggling with addiction before they know why themselves. This means that you must know the medical jargon and be able to empathize with your clients.
A good understanding of addiction
No one truly understands why people become addicted. Still, they know that many chemicals in the brain and body come into play when someone uses alcohol, drugs or gambling. This is what you need to understand first if you want to help someone overcome their addiction.
Addiction is always a problem between two parties — the substance abuser and those they love, such as family members or friends. Empathy is essential in this line of work because you are helping both parties when one person becomes an addict.
You will always be facing an uphill battle when addiction is involved. People typically become addicted to something for a reason, whether it is a death in the family, the loss of a job, or just pure boredom. As an addiction counselor, you need to be patient when someone’s problems stem from these things.
A broad range of knowledge
You will work with many people who have problems and may come from different backgrounds. To help them effectively, you need to understand their culture and their situation to help them better understand if they are using something like alcohol or marijuana recreationally.
A good communication style
This skill is obvious but worth mentioning because many people who come to addiction counselors suffer from problems that stem from their inability to communicate. You need to be able to speak with people in a manner they understand, whether verbally or through reading or writing.
Some knowledge of psychology
You will never know everything about psychology, but you should have at least taken some classes if you are interested in becoming an addiction counselor. A good understanding of it will help your clients immensely because people who have suffered through tragedy tend to become addicts more quickly than others.
An aptitude for persuasive speech
This skill is vital in this line of work because addiction counselors need to constantly communicate with their clients so that they can understand the problem they are having. You will need clear and concise conversations with your clients, often avoiding jargon and slang. That way, someone who does not know what you are talking about can understand what you are saying.
The various roles an addiction counselor can play in recovery are essential to consider when helping a client overcome substance abuse issues. While counselors may employ different methods for working on the root cause of addiction, they must understand their client’s specific needs.
Addiction counselors must understand their role within the community and have a solid understanding of what they are doing. They must be able to provide guidance, support and information to those who need it. The more they know about addiction, the better equipped they will be to help people recover from addictions.