3 Questions to Ask a Drug & Alcohol Counselor

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A certified drug and alcohol counselor is someone you can work with as you’re overcoming a substance use disorder. Drug and alcohol counselors work in various settings and have different types of clinical experience and core functions in your recovery. 

For example, you may receive alcohol counseling or substance abuse counseling in substance abuse facilities. You’re also likely to work with a counselor several times a week when you’re in an outpatient program.

You might also work with different counselors in formalized addiction treatment programs. For example, one counselor could lead group therapy, while you might work with someone else during individual therapy. You could also have a third counselor if you’re doing any type of relationship or family therapy as part of your rehab program.

Addiction therapy doesn’t just happen within a rehab program. You can go to a therapist in private practices if you aren’t going to rehab, or continuing to work with a counselor can also be part of your aftercare plan.

An aftercare plan is something your mental health professionals create, personalized to you to help you stay on track when you finish rehab.


What Does a Drug and Alcohol Counselor Do?

The specifics of what a certified addiction counselor does depend on your diagnosis, whether you have co-occurring mental health disorders, and your more extensive treatment plan. Addiction is very complex, and treatment has to be individualized. A counselor has to consider the wide variety of drug and alcohol use symptoms and the root causes.

  • Behavioral disorder counselors work to guide, support, and rehabilitate as part of client treatment planning and implementation. 
  • The primary goals will often be learning in an in-depth way what triggers you to behave in a certain way leading to drugs and alcohol. 
  • During individual addiction counseling, your therapist will take notes to understand even the most seemingly minor details specific to you.
  • An addiction treatment counselor will also look at the effects substance use has on every part of a person’s life, including mental and physical health, effects on their life at school or legal, legal issues, and social effects. 
  • Counselors do everything they can to prevent relapse and find a course of treatment that allows you to break free of being under the control of substance addiction.


Types of Therapy for Addiction

Some of the specific types of therapy and mental health counseling used include:

  • Individual, group, and family services therapy: These three broad types of treatment often occur within the setting of a rehab program, whether it’s inpatient or outpatient.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT is a specific type of therapy. During CBT, you work with a mental health counselor or therapist in a structured way. CBT is a type of individual counseling usually. In CBT counseling environments, you learn how to recognize your negative thinking and then respond to challenging situations more clearly. This type of talk therapy works well for a variety of mental health conditions in addition to drug and alcohol addiction. 
  • Contingency management (CM): This type of therapy is helpful for different types of substance use disorders. The underlying philosophy of CM is that you receive material rewards to motivate your behavior, which would be sobriety. Research finds CM helps prevent relapse and also leaving treatment programs too early.
  • Motivational interviewing: Also known as MI, this type of drug addiction treatment allows individuals to use their motivation and desire to change as part of their treatment. You can work on developing things that motivate you on a personal level, so you’ll feel more control over your treatment.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy: DBT helps you learn how to regulate your emotions. That self-regulation can then help you reduce self-destructive behaviors. Four skill sets are part of DBT, including distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Eye movement desensitization reprocessing: Called EMDR, this type of treatment works well for people with traumatic experiences. There are dual stimulation exercises to talk about past trauma. At the same time, other parts of the brain are engaged through eye movements, taps, or tones. Your brain’s information processing system can start to heal.
  • 12-step facilitation: The above types of therapy and counseling can be used broadly outside of addiction treatment. Some counselors also focus on 12-step facilitation therapy. 12-step programs help promote ongoing drug or alcohol abstinence by engaging you in peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.


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3 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Drug and Alcohol Counselor

Three things to consider or ask about before you work with a certified drug and alcohol counselor include:


What Do You Specialize In?

Not all therapists are qualified to work with people seeking substance abuse treatment. You want to find someone who specifically works with people dealing with addiction. Some therapists will take that specialization further, and they’ll help people with very particular types of addiction.

  • The more specialized in specific client treatment plans when choosing a counselor, the better.
  • Before choosing a counselor, you should also ask if they can help you manage other mental health needs you may have, like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD.
  • Counselors can have different credentials too, which may be something to ask about. For example, there is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), a certified co-occurring disorders counselor (CCDP), and a certified addiction professional (CAP).
  • A licensed professional counselor (LPC), a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and a licensed associate counselor (LAC) are other credentials that you might look for in an addiction counselor. 
  • Each of these credentials comes with its educational requirements, including degree programs required. 


Do They Provide Medication?

Many substance abuse counselors can’t provide medication, but they may work with doctors and health care providers to collaboratively offer care. Medication-assisted treatment is the best, most comprehensive approach for some people dealing with drug or alcohol addiction.

Medication-assisted treatment options can include Naltrexone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol.


What is Their Treatment Approach?

The treatment approach that substance abuse counselors take will be an essential part of how you feel about the program overall. You want a treatment approach that’s evidence-based, individualized and one that you feel comfortable with.

For example, not everyone wants to work with a counselor who follows a 12-step approach. The more you know about the counselor’s approach, the better decision you can make for yourself.


How Do I Become a Drug and Alcohol Counselor?

Maybe you’ve gone through treatment, and you’d like to help others the way your drug and alcohol counselors helped you. This is a common career opportunity for many people in recovery, and it allows you not just to give back but to stay in a sober, supported environment.

You can interact with clients and patients in a more empathetic way because you’ve been there too. You’ll bring a unique perspective to the behavioral science field for addictive disorders. 

  • The education requirement varies to become an addiction counselor. In most states, you need at least a bachelor’s degree following your high school diploma to do different types of counseling, including drug abuse counseling.
  • Behavioral disorder counseling and people providing drug abuse counseling also need to be licensed by their state and pass a certification exam for substance abuse counselors. 
  • If this is one of your career goals, the eligibility requirements for certification and needed practical training vary depending on the specific field and where you live. 
  • Along with formal training in abuse counselor degree programs, to be a licensed counselor, you will also need to have a certain number of clinical hours as part of your certification process in many cases. 
  • Your career path in drug counseling could initially include time spent working in correctional facilities or juvenile detention facilities. 
  • You might gain clinical experience in substance abuse centers, community health centers, or private mental health centers.
  • To be a good counselor, you need not only a history of addiction studies and to meet licensure requirements. You also need practical communication skills and the ability to engage in active listening.

Behavioral health is a people-centric career field where these skills can be more important than advanced degrees. Clinical counseling can also change your clients’ lives, and it’s essential to work. If you’ve already worked with someone for your addictive disorders, you likely realize what a vital role they’ve had in your life. 

If you have questions that we haven’t answered above about working with an addiction counselor, please call 855-953-1345 to speak with a member of the Opus Health team to learn more.

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