How Do I Become a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor?

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  • Written By: P.M. Willers
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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The background education of a certified substance abuse counselor includes both practical on-site training and a strong base of coursework. A substance abuse counselor generally works within the guidelines of their jurisdiction. Before beginning training to become a certified substance abuse counselor, it is critical to consult your regional governing body on the requirements for certification. Educational requirements may vary substantially depending on your location, so it may be prudent to study in the same location that you would like to work as a counselor.

A substance abuse counselor works to assist and counsel those with alcohol or drug abuse problems. Most programs that provide training for those hoping to become a certified substance abuse counselor are either two or four year programs. Educational programs include both coursework and hands-on training. Depending on your preferences, it may be possible to complete a basic educational program in counseling or therapy before specializing in substance abuse counseling.


Work requirements for a substance abuse counselor could include job and health counseling, family counseling, running support groups or community outreach programs, and other tasks involving advocacy and mediation. An applicant must be competently trained in each of these areas in order to become a certified substance abuse counselor. If you would like to become a certified substance abuse counselor, you may wish to first volunteer at a substance abuse center. You may also wish to interview or speak with a substance abuse counselor before starting your program and requirements. Working or speaking with another counselor will allow you to fully understand the physical, mental, and emotional traits needed to become a certified substance abuse counselor.

Coursework will include classes on counseling techniques and practices as well as courses on drugs, alcohol, and other forms of substance abuse. Counseling coursework will include learning various therapeutic techniques as well as studying the various facets of mental health counseling. The study of planning and carrying out rehabilitation programs will also be an important part of your coursework. Clinical assessment and diagnosis of substance abuse is another aspect of your training and education. Crisis training and preparation may also be involved.

The real-life training portion of your education could include an internship, volunteer work, or other supervised training hours, and may be the most important piece of your background experience. A substance abuse counselor must be both high-energy and patient as well as have strong listening and communication skills. Your training supervisor or mentor will serve as an important outlet throughout your training.


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