A Day In the Life: What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?

addiction counselor

At least 15 million American adults have alcohol use disorder. And every day, 115 people succumb to opioid overdose.

These numbers don’t tell the full story of America’s addiction problem, though. Millions more are struggling with other addictions, such as compulsive eating and gambling.

At the forefront of the fight against this national epidemic are addiction counselors. They work to help as many addicts as possible to recover from their addictions.

If you’re looking to join this profession, it’s important to know what a day in the life of a practicing addiction counselor looks like. We’re painting that picture for you.

The Typical Work Environment of Addiction Counselors

Addiction counselors work in diverse environments.

The vast majority work in addiction treatment facilities or rehabilitation centers. Some run independent practices, providing counseling services to individuals and their families. Others work in hospitals, mental health facilities, prisons, and juvenile detention centers.

In most of these settings, addiction counselors have a regular, full-time schedule. In inpatient facilities, counselor often work in shifts, as patients need round-the-clock care

The work of an addiction counselor can be stressful. Leading causes of stress among counselors include funding cuts and changing licensing requirements.

Duties and Responsibilities

Here are the everyday tasks of an addiction counselor:

Guiding Patients Towards Addiction Recovery

Addiction counselors help patients seeking addiction treatment fully overcome their behaviors.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for addiction treatment. Counselors must develop unique treatment solutions for every patient. To do this, they interview patients to identify and document their addiction problems.

Depending on the addiction, the counselor might collaborate with other healthcare professionals to develop a treatment plan.

When a treatment plan is ready, the addiction counselor works with the patient to implement it. For instance, if the plan requires bi-weekly counseling sessions, the counselor makes arrangements with the patient and ensures the sessions are effective.

Sometimes a treatment plan will fail to yield positive results. When this is the case, the counselor has to rethink another approach.

Creating Strong Counselor-Patient Relationships

Only a small percentage of alcohol and substance abuse addicts seek treatment. Denial, shame, and fear are some of the top reasons many patients choose to suffer in silence.

As such, it’s a huge step of courage when a patient reaches out for help. In the early stages, the patient might feel uncomfortable, and can easily back out from treatment if the environment isn’t supportive.

This is where an addiction counselor comes in handy.

These professionals strive to create a counselor-patient environment that nurtures trust. If patients don’t find counselors trustworthy, they won’t be comfortable enough to freely express themselves.

The question is: how do counselors create this environment?

First of all, addiction counselors must be empathetic. The ability to show patients that they understand what they are going through and share their feelings goes a long way in building patient trust.

During counseling sessions, the counselor stays alert, ready to ask follow-up questions where necessary. Also, a counselor has to be ready to tell difficult truths. Patients have a greater inclination to trust counselors who are straightforward about their conditions.

Help Patients Avoid Relapse

A staggering 85 percent of patients under addiction treatment relapse and return to drug use within a year.

Addiction counselors know this only too well, and that’s why part of their job involves helping patients avoid relapse. They assess patients, determine their risk for relapse and develop emergency relapse prevention plans.

In addition to this, counselors help patients identify their triggers. When dealing with an alcohol addict, for example, the counselor may evaluate their lifestyle, point out potential triggers and provide ways to avoid them.

Link Patients with External Support Resources

Addiction counseling alone isn’t enough to steer affected individuals to full recovery. It takes a range of resources, clinical and otherwise, to ensure an addict regains their normal life.

An addiction counselor is a bridge between the patient and other outside resources. For example, a counselor can refer a recovering alcoholic to Alcoholics Anonymous and other local support groups.

Addiction counselors also provide support to their patients’ families. They advise them on how to cope with the effects of addiction, and how to help their loved one make a full recovery. If the family needs financial support, the counselor can help them access government aid.

Becoming an Addiction Counselor

Is your interest to join this profession still intact?

Yes? Excellent! Now you need to know what it takes to become an addiction counselor.

First, earn a counseling degree. Ensure the program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

The good news is most universities and colleges offer accredited programs. However, be sure to learn more about what a counseling course entails before applying for enrollment.

After earning your degree, acquire supervised clinical experience. Next, apply to your state’s licensing board for licensure and registration. You will need to pass a licensing examination and undergo a background check.

Addiction Counselling Is a Noble and Rewarding Profession

Addiction recovery is a long journey, often with many bumps and bends along the way. Addiction counselors hold patients’ hands and guide them through the entire stretch.

Despite the often stressful working conditions, these counselors put in their best shift, collectively working to help America overcome the menace of drug addiction.

To this end, we’re confident you have a clearer idea of what an addiction counselor does. And we encourage you to explore our education and careers page for more insights.