In a year of never ending bad news, there’s no denying that now is a good time to seek employment in the substance abuse counseling field. Why? Opioid use, especially that of heroin, has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. And as unfortunate as this spike in substance abuse is, the good news is that many addicts and their families are making valiant efforts to find treatment for those struggling with abuse. As a result, slots for vacancies at both residential treatment centers and on counseling appointment schedules are at a premium. The need for individuals who can provide both therapy and guidance for recovering addicts isn’t going to decline in the foreseeable future, either.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), due to changing attitudes in dealing with addicts and the opioid crisis itself, the United States will be creating over 21,000 new substance abuse counseling positions over the next decade. The BLS report also indicates that in terms of job satisfaction and pay, many of these substance abuse counselor positions will be on the middle to upper end of the scale. It should be noted that “substance abuse counselor” is a broad term, with many position possibilities falling under it. Here’s what those possibilities may include…
1. Substance Abuse Social Worker
This substance abuse counseling position differs slightly from others described here in that a substance abuse social worker might do less traditional counseling, and act more as an advocate to a recovering addict. For example, a substance abuse social worker may be called upon by another entity to intervene with at risk individuals. Duties in such cases include getting subjects into recovery programs and monitoring their progress. In such a position, a substance abuse counselor may or may not offer the recovering client counseling directly. Duties would involve helping the recovering client find other services, such as outpatient therapy. Educational requirements require an undergraduate degree in social work.
2. Drug Court Substance Abuse Counselor
Many court systems are offering “drug courts” as a way for non-violent offenders to avoid prison time while getting recovery help. Participants must complete a rigorous program that involves frequent drug testing and intensive substance abuse counseling within a limited time frame. Counselors here offer general drug education and counseling therapy, and possibly organizational and life skills. They report on the recovering addict’s progress to both probation officers and the court, which includes assessments of recovery chances. Education here includes knowledge of the court system.
3. School Substance Abuse Counselors
Substance abuse counselors specializing in this area generally work with middle and high school populations. However, they might do general outreach work with elementary school students, such as offering preventative presentations, or offer counseling to college and university students as part of an institution’s medical services. For secondary school students, counseling efforts often focus on prevention, targeting at risk youths, and diversional programs for students already using. Additional education requirements for such positions may include adolescent education and psychology degrees.
4. Prison Substance Abuse Counselor
Counselors here offer assessments, therapy, monitoring, and life skill counseling to recovering addicts who often must complete such programs to reduce or complete sentences. Prison substance abuse counselors often report to courts and parole boards in addition to supervisors within the penal system. A knowledge of the criminal justice system and often degrees in social work or psychology are necessary for this type of job.
5. Residential Treatment Counselor
This type of substance abuse counselor assesses recovering addicts, determines the type of counseling most effective for treatment, and often offers it directly. In such settings, the counselor interviews and may offer counseling to family members as well. Such counselors also help recovering addicts master life and organizational skills, and assist with post treatment center living arrangements and counseling. Educational requirements vary widely here depending on the type of center and state licensing requirements, and may not always require a college degree.
Students contemplating a career in substance abuse counseling should realize that such position requirements often must meet state mandates, which can vary widely. Multiple degrees are sometimes required for specific positions. This is a field which requires patience, empathy, firmness, and good organizational skills. Counselors should be prepared to work with angry, distraught, and sometimes dishonest and manipulative subjects. But for patient individuals who want to help addicts return to sober and productive lives, substance abuse counseling can be a rewarding career.