Your guide to getting certified as an Addictions Professional
Your guide to getting certified as an Addictions Professional

Why you should become a substance abuse counselor

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  • The success rate is very low
  • You only work with criminals
  • They don’t really want to stop using drugs
  • The clients lie and manipulate
  • Substance abuse counselors aren’t as well respected as other counselors
  • It probably isn’t going to make you rich.
  • There seems to be a lot of burnout with substance abuse counselors


These are just a few of the reasons you may hear those in, or considering the counseling profession say that they don’t want to work with drug addicts. Let’s look at some reasons that you should consider becoming an addictions professional.

  1. It’s Tough. Wait, I thought this was reasons that I should become a substance abuse counselor. We spend so much of our time seeking out the path of least resistance and forget the satisfaction that we get from taking on the tough challenges. Being an addictions counselor isn’t the easiest job in the world, but it can certainly be rewarding when you see someone who felt helpless and hopeless make some significant progress and really be excited about life.
  2. Job Security. This is one job where your goal is to work yourself out of a job, but that isn’t likely to happen. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor the number of substance abuse and behavioral counselor jobs will grow by 27% between 2010 and 2020. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that we have a pretty significant drug problem in the United States. Just watch the news tonight. Besides even if we were to get rid of all the drugs in our country, there are still plenty of other addictions out there.
  3. It’s not really about the drugs. Sure, drugs are the love of their life and it takes their money, family, health, freedom etc., but people use drugs for a reason. These reasons are often related to mental health issues and an inability to cope with the stresses of life. This is where the counseling comes in. I have often heard Licensed Professional Counselors and social workers say that they don’t want to work with drug addicts, but I guarantee that whether you work in mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, school counseling or any other counseling, that you will have clients with substance abuse issues.
  4. Your own personal growth. I have found that when I am working with clients and helping them make some positive changes in their life, that it causes me to examine some of those areas of my life. You feel like a hypocrite when you are stressing the importance of exercise and diet when you are having a donut and a soft drink for breakfast every morning. In group settings in particular, when you are addressing specific topics, you can find yourself growing along with your group members.
  5. Career growth opportunities. Compared to many other professions, addictions counseling is relatively new. States having a specific substance abuse counselor board and addiction credentials is still new and evolving. These boards are becoming more organized, more involved with legislation and more respected. In the past 15 years, I have seen them add many new credentials as well as many add on credentials. There are credentials for different levels of addiction counselors, counselor supervisors, counselors specializing in gambling, co-occurring disorders and peer counselors. These are just the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Check your state board to see what credentials are available in your state.

I would like to just briefly address the bullets from the beginning of this article.

  • The success rate is very low.

I have seen a lot of different statistics that seem to say a lot of different things depending on the agenda of the ones providing the stats. Relapse rates are high, but recovery can be a long process and is a continuum. It isn’t as simple as pass or fail. All of us should be on a journey of growing and developing and the only finish line is death.

  • You only work with criminals.

Drugs are illegal, so I guess this one is true. Of course speeding is illegal too.

  • They don’t really want to stop using drugs.

Some don’t want to stop, some feel like they can’t stop, but most do want help and most realize that something has to change in their lives for them to be happy.

  • The clients lie and manipulate.

It’s true that many will. It is what they know and is why they need counseling.

  • Substance abuse counselors aren’t as well respected as other counselors.

This is old school thinking. As discussed earlier this is an evolving field that is gaining more respect and credibility.

  • It probably isn’t going to make you rich.

It isn’t the highest paying profession, but as the need continues to grow, that is improving as well. There is a lot of opportunity for growth.

  • There seems to be a lot of burnout with substance abuse counselors.

As with many professions, there is potential for burnout and you should consider if this is the right career path for you. See the previous post. Counselor burnout is being addressed by some leaders in the field. Sometimes counselors need a little counseling.

I feel that to be happy and have a successful career as a substance abuse counselor, you need to have a passion for it. Addiction touches us all. If you think that you don’t know anyone with addiction issues, then you just aren’t paying attention.


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