How to Become an Addiction Counselor: The Ultimate Guide

It’s estimated that 23.5 million Americans are addicted to either drugs or alcohol. 

There are clearly a lot of people in the country that need help overcoming their addiction. You can turn that into a career of service by becoming an addiction counselor.

Do you want to know how to become an addiction counselor? You should know that you’re going to enter a career with plenty of job security. It’s projected to grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029.

Keep reading to discover the exact steps you need to take to become a substance abuse counselor.

1. Assess Your Skillset

Do you have what it takes to be an addiction counselor? There are hard skills, which can be learned through training and experience.

Then there are soft skills. These are the skills and qualities that can be developed, but most employers don’t know how to develop them. You should possess these qualities or work incredibly hard to develop them over time.

You need to be a great listener. You make your patients feel heard and validated. You also work with them to ask questions and make recommendations.

Counselors need to learn how to manage stress. Remember that people come to you for support and you have to appear ready to give that support, even if you’re having a stressful day.

You have to know how to have strong boundaries. Your patients probably don’t have the skills to create boundaries and you have to demonstrate that for them.   

2. Get Educated

There are two parts to getting educated to become a certified addiction counselor. The first is to learn what the requirements are in your state.

Most states require a combination of classroom education, clinical experience, and a board exam. You then need to get a degree.

There are other certification programs for addiction counseling, such as the National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) and the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professional (CCAPP).

You should have a GED or high school diploma, then move on to obtain a bachelor degree in addiction studies. You may get a master’s degree, but it’s not necessary in a lot of cases.

3. Choose a Specialization

Some substance abuse counselors choose to specialize in one-on-one counseling while others prefer to work in group settings.

It is helpful to choose a specialization as you gain experience. It’s not necessary to get a job, however.

4. Gain Experience

You will have to get experience in a clinical setting in order to get licensed and certified. How much experience you need depends on your state and the level of studies.

For example, some states that allow you to be certified with a bachelor’s degree require up to 10,000 hours in a clinical environment to sit for the board exam. You might only need 1,000 hours with a master’s degree.

This will help you apply what you learned in the classroom. This experience functions like an internship, but you walk away confident in your work.

5. Find Employment

You’ll need to find a job to start your career on the right foot. Before you set out job-hunting, take the time to assess what you want from your work. You’re there to serve others, but you have to remember that the job serves your needs, too.

What kind of environment do you want to work in? Do you want to work in a hospital or treatment center?

Do you want to work in a collaborative environment? You might prefer to be left alone to do your work.

You should also think about the salary you can command right out of school. You’re going to have to pay back student loans, so that needs to be taken into consideration.

Check with your school to see what your career options are. The school’s career center should have leads for you to contact to make inroads as you begin your new career.

6. Develop Your Skills

You’re a board-certified addiction counselor and you have steady employment. That’s the end of the journey, right? Not by a long shot.

Your career is just beginning and you can’t afford to have a static career. You need to grow and evolve as a person, which helps you become a better counselor.

Treatment methods evolve over time, and you need to keep up with the changes. You also need to take continuing education classes to renew your certification.

Every state has its own set of standards. Generally, states require between 30-40 hours of continuing education every 2-3 years.

7. Grow Your Network

There’s a good chance that you’re not going to stay at the same job during your career. You don’t want to wait to network until it’s time to find a new job.

There are a number of advantages of building your professional network throughout your career. The first is that you can get support.

It’s not easy to be an addiction counselor, and only other addiction counselors know what you go through on a daily basis. They can provide support and insights if you have a challenging patient.

Your network can help you grow your career and give you job opportunities. It’s best to start growing your network when you’re in school. People are willing to share their career mistakes and victories with someone just entering the field.

How to Become an Addiction Counselor

Now that you know how to become an addiction counselor, are you ready to start your career? Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way.

It’s hard to be an addiction counselor. It’s an intense job that requires a lot of empathy, compassion, and patience. It’s incredibly rewarding when you see your patients transform their lives because you empowered them to do so.

Do you want more helpful career tips? Check out the other articles on this site today!

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