How do I Become a Drug Counselor?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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A drug counselor is an individual who provides assistance to people with substance abuse problems. If you want to become a drug counselor, you will likely need either a bachelor's or master's degree, depending on your region or country. Typical areas of study include pharmacology and psychology, as well as specific drug counseling courses. In some locations, board certification or other credentials are either necessary or preferred in order to become a drug counselor.

For example, in the United States, a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP) is approved as capable to treat addiction after completing training under a supervisor and passing an exam. A Licensed Addictions Counselor (LAC) has successfully completed at least one year of formal substance abuse counseling training to become a drug counselor. Another option is to earn Certification for Alcohol and Drug Counselors (CADC) with a bachelor's degree, a certain number of supervised counseling work hours, and the completion of specific training qualifications. Master's degree drug counselor programs include the Master's in Addiction Counseling (MAC), which may require some post-graduate work. It's best to ask for education and training recommendations from the drug treatment facilities in which you aspire to work, as qualifications vary locally as well as worldwide.


While the ability to understand the effects of different drugs through the formal study of pharmacology is necessary no matter where you study, if you want to become a drug counselor you must relate drug theory to real people suffering from addiction. For instance, it's important to learn the withdrawal symptoms of different drugs, but also understand how addicts are likely to feel as their body is weaned from a specific drug in a detoxification, or detox, program. Understanding the effects of detox, which is the first step in treating addiction and means that the drug is no present in the addict's body, can help substance abuse counselors to better deal with an addict's behavior.

For example, the physical effects of drug withdrawal can be extremely painful; addicts may be irritable and could lash out verbally to counselors. If you want to become a drug counselor, you're likely to have to work with addicts in detox who are experiencing tough withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, seizures, shaking, body aches, increased heart rate, and anxiety. After the initial detox period, addicts usually suffer psychological cravings for the drugs which counselors help them work through.

Working shifts that include evenings in a substance abuse rehabilitation (rehab) treatment center may be required if you become a drug counselor. Most rehab centers have shared rooms for addicts in which they stay for weeks or months while learning to cope without drugs or alcohol. Once the physical detox is completed, much of the remaining work is individual and group therapy. During group rehab therapy sessions, individuals are encouraged by drug counselors to participate in discussions about significant incidents in family backgrounds or other emotional trauma that played a part in leading the addict to taking drugs. If you want to become a drug counselor, good listening skills and a compassionate attitude are essential.


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