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If you have a concern about how drugs and alcohol affect someone around your or maybe even the community, finding out more about becoming a drug and alcohol counselor may be just what you need. The statistics are certainly alarming: data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that, as of 2020, over 40 million U.S. residents ages 12 and over have dealt with a substance use disorder (SUD). 

The good news? Recovery is absolutely possible, even in the most severe of situations. The process is far from easy—but with adequate support, there is no reason why those battling addiction cannot go on to lead healthy, happy lives. 

Dr. John Kelly of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital explains that success stories are all around us. “We are literally surrounded by people who are in recovery from a substance-use [sic] disorder, but we don’t know it…This is really good news I think and something to share and be hopeful about.” 

While there is no simple solution to the societal concerns wrought by drug and alcohol abuse, there is definite inspiration to be drawn not only from the many survivors of addiction but also from the hardworking counselors on the front lines. These passionate professionals are determined to make a difference, and their success stories remind us that hope abounds. 

Would you like to follow in their footsteps? Keep reading to learn more about this important counseling specialty and to gain insight into what, exactly, it takes to succeed as a drug counselor. 

Alcohol and Drug Counselors 

Alcohol and drug counselors play a central role in treating and caring for people with substance use disorders. They offer goals-focused care with an emphasis on assessing clients and helping them navigate triggers or develop skills to handle the challenges of recovery. These counselors provide a holistic approach and are mindful of their clients’ overall health and well-being. 

While the general role of the alcohol and drug counselor is to help clients overcome substance abuse or addiction. However, it is difficult to define the holistic approach of a alcohol and drug counselor because each counselor’s approach will be tailored to both their client’s needs as well as the counselor’s training, license and certification.  

What You Can Do as a Counselor 

In drug and alcohol counseling, no two days look exactly alike. A lot depends on the work environment and the patient population. Challenges abound, of course, but rewards do as well: there is nothing quite like seeing clients make progress toward recovery. 

Many counselors work in dedicated clinics or rehab facilities, where they meet individually with clients to discuss symptoms, recovery roadblocks, and potential treatment strategies. The process may unfold differently from one client to the next, but these key steps are common: 

  • Evaluate clients to determine their physical and mental health status and to reveal whether they are truly ready for treatment. 
  • Help clients develop treatment goals and create plans that will enable them to meet these objectives. 
  • Educate clients on the mental and physical effects of drug or alcohol abuse, along with the positive impacts of recovery. 
  • Help clients identify and navigate co-morbidities or triggers that might otherwise prompt them to abuse drugs or alcohol. 
  • Collaborate with other mental health or medical professionals as needed to ensure that clients receive high-quality care. 

What You Will Learn 

As you prepare for your career in alcohol and drug counseling, you will be expected to develop a thorough understanding of the theories of counseling, theories of human development, and applicable research that guide modern counseling, as well as the modalities that allow you to put these research-backed insights into practice. 

Today’s drug counselors are expected to develop a broad-based knowledge of biology, psychology, and psychopathology especially as these topics relate to addiction. Key concepts touched on while preparing for this career path include: 

  • The biological impact of chemical substances on the human body 
  • The sociological consequences of substance use disorders 
  • Historical perspectives on substance use disorders 
  • Substance abuse co-occurring  disorders such as depression 
  • Modalities like dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 
  • Concerns surrounding court-ordered and involuntary treatments 

Certificationand Licensure Requirements 

As we have touched on, licensing and certification can vary dramatically from one state to the next. What is more, multiple certifying bodies provide opportunities to gain necessary drug and alcohol counseling credentials. Among the most respected is the Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) designation from the International Certifications & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). Forming the basis of the licensing process in many locations, this organization provides a strong starting point for aspiring drug counselors. Another organization that has worked closely with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Agency (SAMHSA) is the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). Explore your state’s counseling credentials with this downloadable link 

Certification Steps 

The drug and alcohol counseling certification process can be confusing, even in the best of circumstances. This path begins with obtaining relevant academic credentials. Coursework specific to alcohol and drug counseling is also required, and, for some students, this is best obtained through either a bachelor or graduate-level degree program. After completing targeted courses, graduate students can expect to apply their newly gained knowledge during clinical field practicums and/or counseling internships. 


Certification exams vary somewhat between verifying bodies but always call for extensive study and preparation. The ADC exam is especially rigorous and involves 150 questions that touch on screening, assessment, counseling techniques, treatment planning, and much more. In addition to passing this exam, aspiring drug counselors may need to provide proof of education and work experience. 


Renewal standards depend on the type of credential or certification obtained, but typically, this is a periodic requirement that must be fulfilled every few years. Eligibility for renewal may be impacted by continuing education credits and many other factors. Renewing also often means paying a fee. 

How Drug and Alcohol Counselors Help inAddictionRecovery 

Drug and alcohol counselors are committed to helping their clients recover from substance use disorders. They also encourage clients to develop personalized strategies that minimize the potential for relapse. 

While many factors play into lasting recovery, counseling is an important part of the equation. The far-reaching roles of drug and alcohol counselors encompass: 

Encouraging Client Recovery 

It sounds simple, but often, encouragement is what clients need most as they embark on the difficult road to recovery. In the midst of cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and other personal challenges, clients need frequent reminders that they are not only capable of recovering but also that the effort to recover is truly worthwhile. 

Drug and alcohol counselors provide a tangible reminder simply through their presence, along with verbal clarification of what, exactly, their clients stand to gain. They provide a powerful counterpoint to the often negative internal monologues that so many people with substance abuse disorders struggle to overcome. 

A Therapeutic Alliance With Clients 

Clients need to know that they are not alone. However, many struggle to confide in loved ones or to establish trusting relationships. Counselors act as an ally, showing clients the utmost empathy, unconditional positive regard, acceptance, genuineness, and respect. Once they feel confident that their counselors are genuine, honest, and reliable clients are more likely to take steps toward recovery that would have previously seemed too daring or difficult.  

Helping Clients Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan 

For many people with substance use disorders, relapse is a difficult but natural part of the recovery process. Clients may need to return to regular counseling if a relapse occurs, but preventative measures can make a world of difference. This begins with awareness: understanding what acts as a trigger and which strategies should be employed to deal with difficult emotions or physical sensations. 

Counselors help clients acknowledge the reality that relapse is possible (or even likely) and prepare accordingly. They reveal the need for a proactive approach, in which a plan exists for every possible scenario. Through encouragement and respectful guidance, they help clients develop and take ownership of their personal relapse prevention plans. 

Referring Clients to Outside Support Groups 

Drug and alcohol counseling can be transformative, but it is not meant to last forever. The drug counselor’s ultimate goal is to eventually not be a central part of their clients ‘ lives. 

Still, support remains vital long after addictive behaviors have been left behind. This is where supportive persons and support groups come into play. Drug and alcohol counselors are thoroughly familiar with the available options and can help clients find and join the groups to which they are best suited. They may even assist them in identifying persons who are willing to provide one-on-one support as well.  

Make a Difference ThroughDrug and Alcohol Counseling 

Are you eager to make a meaningful difference and provide much-needed support as a drug and alcohol counselor? Reach out to learn more about Post University’s Graduate Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling.