Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor: What social work bachelor’s students need to know

Limestone College Social Work

In the 2016 presidential campaign, one of the issues that surfaced to the forefront of political debate was the New Hampshire drug epidemic. Alarming statistics of drug related deaths in New Hampshire and across America have fueled the discussion about causes, needs, prevention and treatment. And among them, the need for trained substance abuse professionals and counselors.

Substance abuse counselors work with people who suffer from harmful or hazardous use of substances, such as alcohol and illicit drugs. They may specialize in working with specific population segments such as youth or veterans. On a day-to-day basis, their work involves individual and group therapy sessions where they meet with clients to listen, and help identify causes that contribute to their substance problem. They also teach coping methods, help set recovery goals and meet with family members to provide guidance on how best to support their loved ones through recovery.

Though job requirements may vary, becoming a substance abuse counselor typically involves earning a master’s degree in a behavioral/mental health/human service field such as social work or a bachelor’s degree paired with current licensure such as Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC).

Substance abuse counselors may work in hospitals, state and local governments, clinics and even educational institutions. For example, a recent Social Work Today article discussed the prevalence of substance abuse across colleges and universities in America and how social work professionals are developing innovative strategies to combat this problem.

The need for qualified substance abuse counselors is substantial. According to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there is a significant treatment gap in this country.

“In 2013, an estimated 22.7 million Americans (8.6 percent) needed treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol, but only about 2.5 million people (0.9 percent) received treatment at a specialty facility.”

Similarly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of substance abuse counselors will grow 22 percent by 2024, much faster than the average rate for all occupations.

At Limestone College, students earning a Bachelor of Social Work who have an interest in substance abuse counseling will learn about substance abuse prevention and treatment in several courses including SW 301 – Social Work Intervention: Individuals, Families, and Small Groups. In addition, students can gain hands-on experience in this area by choosing to complete their field practicum in a social services agency that provides substance abuse counseling and prevention services.

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