Students in addictions counseling programs learn how to help people
who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, tobacco and other addictions.
These programs teach students a variety of skills such as assessment, referral,
case management and discharge planning. Students learn how to facilitate individual
and group therapy.
Students may take classes in philosophy, psychology, pharmacology, sociology,
communication and social work in addition to counseling skills classes. Most
programs include some practical experience.
One- or two-year diploma programs are available at the community college
level. Some institutions offer addictions counseling as part of a bachelor's
degree program. Post-graduate programs are available for people who already
have credentials in related fields.
Look for a program that is accredited by a recognized organization. Licensing
differs from state to state. It is important to research the requirements
for your state.
For example, from July of 2008, Minnesota requires a bachelor's degree
to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. "As a result, we have a major
in alcohol and drug counseling which leads to a BS degree," says William J.
Payne. He is an associate professor at Metropolitan State University in St.
"In Washington, social work, psychology, community health and prevention
programs do not meet the education standards for certification as a chemical
dependency professional," says Paul Weatherly. He is the director of the Alcohol/Drug
Counseling Program at Washington's Bellevue Community College.
In Washington, there is a huge shortage of chemical dependency professionals
(CDPs), according to Weatherly. "The good consequence of this is that beginning
salaries are rising and helping to make the profession more attractive to
young people," he says.
These days, more counselors specialize in tobacco, gambling and other
addictions. Counseling specific to gambling addictions is a relatively
new specialty. It's been growing along with the legalization of gambling.
Because this field offers a lot of choices, Weatherly helps his students
to begin identifying their career path. "We typically break it down into segments
based on where the student wants to be in their career at two, five and 10
years. This helps us to develop the education plan that will most efficiently
take the student in the direction they have identified."
Some career paths will require a master of social work degree while others
will require degrees in mental health counseling.
To get on the right path in high school, be active in your community.
"Volunteer in the social services," says Payne. "Find out if helping people
is what you want to dedicate your life to."
Urstad recommends taking courses in the humanities and some biology in
Weatherly says that courses or activities that involve public speaking
are helpful. He also recommends a job in customer relations. This can help
you to develop listening and problem-solving skills.
"Apart from tuition and textbooks, there are no other expenses beyond the
time required to attend the program," says Urstad.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Human
Service Workers and Assistants
The Wellness Resource Centre and ADAPT
Learn about the work of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention
The Association for Addiction Professionals
It's possible to specialize in tobacco addiction
Counselor: The Magazine for Addictions Professionals
Online resource for addictions counsellors