What does a Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counselor do?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 06 April 2020
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A drug and alcohol abuse counselor typically works with substance abuse patients and their families in an effort to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and to create a healthy home environment free of temptation and enabling behaviors. By employing a variety of treatment techniques, a drug and alcohol abuse counselor can identify and help prevent the family dysfunction that may be contributing to the substance abuse and curb any of the abuser’s resulting behaviors. Counselors can further assist clients by referring them to additional services like a food pantry, vocational training center or doctor that may provide support for the fight against addiction.

A drug and alcohol abuse counselor may work with his or her patient in group or private sessions, depending on the substance abuser’s specific needs and concerns. In a typical session, the counselor will help the client develop more productive communication skills and learn to express his or her emotions constructively. Additionally, the client and counselor will create coping strategies necessary for enduring sobriety. The client’s family and friends may also be asked to participate in sessions so that they are better able to provide a stable and supportive environment for recovery.


In some cases, drug and alcohol abuse counselors work with youth and parents to prevent substance abuse rather than with a person who is already in recovery. Such counselors are typically employed by a public or private school, university or local social welfare agency. Their role in this context is primarily to educate children, adolescents and parents about the behaviors that encourage substance abuse and how to prevent them.

In order to be licensed as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor, most regions require that the candidate complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in social work with a specialization in substance abuse counseling. Some drug and alcohol abuse counselors are former substance abusers too. There are employment opportunities for drug and alcohol abuse counselors in half-way houses, homeless shelters, hospitals, prisons, and drug and alcohol treatment centers. The counselor may be a member of a support team that could include a psychologist, attorney, welfare agent or social worker.

A career as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor can be demanding emotionally and require endless compassion and patience. The need for constant crisis intervention, high relapse rates and even death among clients all contribute to the increasingly common incidence of burnout among drug and alcohol abuse counselors. As a result, some drug and alcohol abuse counselors will eventually move into other social work fields.


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