drug abuse counselor

Substance Abuse Professionals: An Interview with a Drug and Alcohol Counselor

Growing drug abuse and alcoholism rates have brought addiction to the forefront in America. Widespread popularity of documentaries like Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and A&E’s Intervention has spurred an interest in drug and alcohol dependency. A&E’s Intervention has increased substantially in popularity, VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew is in its third season and going strong, and HBO has recently produced The Addiction Project in partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Perhaps this surge in popularity will spur more people to consider a career helping the estimated 23.6 million people who need treatment for a drug or alcohol abuse problem (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Survey).

Lori S., LCDC III, has worked in the field for five years as a technician at a residential treatment facility, a counselor at a detox center, and an intensive outpatient counselor at a community corrections facility. A phone interview with Lori yielded practical information for those interested in a career in the addiction field.

Substance Abuse Counselor Job Responsibilities

Primary job responsibilities are determined by what kind of facility one works in. At the correctional treatment facility, Lori’s role was to facilitate groups made up of drug and alcohol addicts. The focus of the groups was to teach patients alternatives to using drugs or alcohol. According to Lori, “[The addict’s] mind must be rewired to do something else instead of using drugs or alcohol…like meditate, exercise, participate in a hobby, or some other replacement skill that proves effective.”

Running a Substance Abuse Group

The group began with a 15-20 minute video that focused on developing life skills for avoiding drugs and alcohol. After the video, the patients wrote about their present feelings and struggles or documented a reaction to what they just watched.

Next there was a group discussion where members were encouraged to talk about their individual struggles with addiction. They were asked to relate the video to what they personally were grappling with at that time. Lori also performed one-on-one counseling with clients to see how they were progressing outside of the group.

Helpful Personality Traits for a Drug and Alcohol Counselor

There are a variety of personality traits that are helpful to a drug and alcohol counselor. Lori asserts that anyone employed in a drug rehab or alcohol rehab facility must be discreet and always maintain confidentiality. They must also be empathetic, understanding and have a thick skin.

“One must be happy to plant seeds; a counselor cannot fix someone else’s life for them, or tell them what to do. Because the addict is cunning, lying is part of the addiction and it is challenging to see through some of the lies. [One cannot] rely on emotions and believe everything an addict says. Denial is a big part of addiction.”

Rewards and Drawbacks of Working in a Rehab Facility

Lori asserts that the biggest reward of the job is to see someone get sober, or maintain their sobriety. “It is rewarding to see one little bit of progress – one person that says, “I am an addict.”

Unfortunately, after a time many addicts think that they have learned enough to control their addiction. They falsely believe that they can just have one drink without it turning into a problem. A lot of these situations end with the person being right where they started. “A major drawback to working in this field is that addiction is a revolving door, you see people who were doing well go back to drugs because they didn’t deal well with their triggers.”

Interested in the Profession?

Drug and alcohol facility employees must be empathetic and patient. They must exert positive influence, yet understand that the ultimate decision to remain clean and sober rests with the addict. A group facilitator must establish boundaries and manage group participants with structure and organization. If this sounds like a profession of interest, a comprehensive summary report on working in a drug and alcohol rehab facility is available at ONet On-Line.

Further information may also be obtained from the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). According to the OOH, the need for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is projected to grow 21% between now and 2018. Those interested in the field should visit local college websites to determine what programs are available.