Substance Abuse Counselor – What They Do & Why It’s Essential

Substance Abuse Counselor – What They Do & Why It’s Essential

When someone is struggling with substance abuse, finding high-quality, knowledgeable, yet compassionate help is a major key to helping them beat their addiction. They need an unbiased viewpoint, as well as someone whose primary focus is getting them where they need and want to be.

Performing this most essential, yet in some cases, underrated service is the Substance Abuse Counselor. Their role is critical in helping those dealing with substance abuse beat their drug addiction and live happy, healthy, productive lives.

Substance Abuse Counselors are mental health professionals who specialize in helping people overcome addictions to alcohol, drug, and behavioral addictions.

They’re also known as Certified Addiction Counselors or Addictions Counselors. These individuals work in a variety of settings such as with Substance Abuse Programs, private practices, hospitals, and residential facilities that help those suffering and trying to overcome their drug addiction.

In addition to working with the individual who is struggling with drug addiction, they also work with their families. This helps the Counselors to better assess the situation, and provide the help and support needed to everyone involved.

Sadly, drug addiction is a growing problem in Canada. Right now, much like the US, Canada is going through an opioid epidemic. Because of this, the need for qualified, compassionate Substance Abuse Counselors is needed now more than ever.

Qualifications of a Substance Abuse Counselor 

Qualifications of a Substance Abuse Counselor

To become a qualified Substance Abuse or Drug Addiction Counselor, requirements vary depending on where they would like to work, and in what capacity.

Required Schooling for Substance Abuse Counselors

Required education for a Substance Abuse Counselor varies slightly depending on the province one lives in. However, the general requirements include having a Graduate degree in Addictions Counseling and Human Resources.

A degree in Psychology or Social Work is also required. When it comes to drug addiction, there is a variety of sensitive, yet complex factors involved. A good Counselor needs to be prepared to handle all of these issues.  

Psychological issues that Counselors may encounter include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Family Issues 
  • Problems with or at employment


These are all issues that can affect an individual’s psyche and contribute to not only the start of substance abuse but also the continued abuse of substances like illegal drugs and alcohol. Every factor needs to be addressed and thoroughly understood in order for the individual to successfully beat their addiction.

Another reason degrees and schooling in Psychology and Social Work are necessary, has to do with the families of those suffering from drug abuse. Oftentimes children are involved and need a measure of counseling as well – whether the individual battling drug abuse is a parent or a sibling, they’re still greatly affected. 

The knowledge that comes with these degrees helps the Counselor better understand and be prepared to handle the science and psychology behind drug addiction, as well as the effects on the individual and the family.

They’re in a better position to help when they can better comprehend:

  1. Why drug abuse starts
  2. Any catalysts or triggers involved – internal or external
  3. How any co-occurring mental health conditions contribute to the problem
  4. How the individual’s thinking can be used to help them
  5. How family dynamics play a role


In addition to training in the classroom, prospective Addictions Counselors must also complete:

  1. Internship, and/or
  2. Practicum


An Internship involves supervised, ‘hands-on training, often at a private clinic or rehab. 

This allows the aspiring Counselor to witness their knowledge and that of others put into practice. They get to work alongside more experienced Counselors as they offer counsel and support to those suffering from drug addiction. The examples of these Counselors then help the new, prospective Counselor to put their knowledge to work in a real-life scenario.

A Practicum, as opposed to an internship, emphasizes observation over active participation. 

This is also done in the company of an experienced Counselor. The aspiring Counselor gets to spend more time carefully observing counseling sessions, and taking notes as they do so.   

Both Internships and Practicums are part of the certification portion of most Substance Abuse schooling programs and are designed to help the student see the practical use of their knowledge in the real world. With this hands-on experience, they’re then able to use these techniques, and over time develop some of their own, in their own Counseling sessions in the future. 

Required Character/Skills for Substance Abuse Counselors

Required Character/Skills for Substance Abuse Counselors

Preparing to be a Substance Abuse Counselor goes beyond schooling, however. All the head knowledge in the world is of little use if the Counselor’s character is unbecoming and their ‘bedside manner’ is unappealing.

Individuals battling drug addiction don’t trust others easily – and this would include their Counselors. They’re in a place of uncertainty. These individuals need someone who not only is willing to help but shows that as well. In light of that, there are a few qualities that are important for a good Counselor to have.


Quality Reason
Patience Individuals battling drug addiction are fighting a hard battle every day – often all day. This battle causes a great deal of stress, and they may find it difficult to express themselves. Addiction sufferers may also have outbursts because of this stress, withdrawal, or symptoms of other mental health issues. They’re already going through a lot, so they don’t need someone rushing them through a thought process or getting angry at them for an outburst.
Compassion People going through the struggles of fighting drug addiction get enough judgment from the outside world – their Counselor shouldn’t be another source. They need understanding. In addition, the families also need that loving support and understanding. That heartfelt feeling needs to be expressed in order to achieve positive results.
Tact People battling addiction face so much. Tactless, thoughtless, and hurtful words can only do harm. If something needs to be said during a session, the utmost tact and respect must be used.
Good Listener Fighting addiction requires that the individual be able to open up to their Counselor. If they don’t feel they can speak and be heard, they’ll clam up, and progress will not be made.


Counseling sessions must feel like a safe space for the individual battling drug addiction. If they don’t feel safe, secure, and understood, they won’t open up about anything. This can lead to important issues not being addressed, issues that may be of key importance to battling drug addiction. If this occurs, no progress can be made.

Main Responsibilities of a Substance Abuse Counselor

Some of the main responsibilities of a Substance Abuse Counselor include:


Responsibility Effects
Determine Causes Helping an addiction sufferer determine the root cause and triggers of their addiction is essential for the proper course of treatment to be prescribed. 
Discuss Solutions This helps start the one battling addiction on the right path. In addition to counseling and working on mindset, solutions may also involve 12-step programs, and medication to help with withdrawal symptoms or other co-occurring mental health conditions. 
Family Support Those who abuse substances rarely suffer alone. Family members also feel the effects of the addiction, especially children. Counseling family members help them cope with what’s going on and even teach them how they can help their family member battle addiction. This can be especially beneficial in a family that doesn’t believe in counseling. This helps change the environment in the home of the addiction sufferer and reduce or eliminate a stressor.
Follow-Up Care Continued support helps the individual suffering from addiction throughout their battle, and helps them to avoid any potential setbacks. Even after the individual has been clean for a long period of time, a good Substance Abuse Counselor will continue to follow-up from time to time. The goal here is to show the individual that they still have the support they need and can help them avoid any stressors that could lead to relapse before they become a problem.


Why Is a Substance Abuse Counselor an Important Role in the Addiction Recovery Process

Why Is a Substance Abuse Counselor an Important Role in the Addiction Recovery Process

Recovering from an addiction to drugs, or any other substance is a complex and difficult journey. In addition to mental aspects, there are also a variety of physical symptoms, as well as external stressors that can further exacerbate the problem. Some family members may not be entirely supportive, which can even further cause issues. 

One of the major risk factors for relapse includes a lack of programs or support

Substance Abuse Counselors help prevent that risk factor by offering continual support throughout the recovery process.  

Because of the many factors that play a role in helping someone battle addiction, Substance Abuse Counselors are beyond essential. They play a critical role in the life of an individual suffering from drug addiction. 

The intricacies and complexity of the situation surrounding those battling with substance abuse require more help than one’s family or friends are able to provide. A qualified Substance Abuse Counselor can help the individual battling drug addiction navigate through serious and challenging hurdles throughout their journey.

Benefits of Working With A Substance Abuse Counselor

Recovering from substance abuse is already a huge hurdle to cover – working with a counselor will make it that much easier.

Some benefits include:

  1. Comprehensive Counseling
  2. Family Support
  3. Relapse Prevention and Recovery
  4. Long – Term Support

Comprehensive Counseling

The road to recovery brings with it many challenges – especially at the beginning. Individuals who are struggling with substance abuse may be having a hard time figuring out where it even began, or when it became a habit. It may have started out as a momentary escape from reality, and before they know it, it spiraled out of control.

A Substance Abuse Counselor will patiently, calmly, and compassionately sit down with the individual, and help them work through where it all began – and why. They’ll be able to work through not only the external stressors but the many emotions that accompany addiction.

They will also be able to formulate plans that will foster healthy habits in the future.


Plan Reason
Form a new mindset This helps the one dealing with addiction to develop a new mindset focused on positivity and making changes, one practical step at a time. It also helps them develop confidence in themselves and their ability to abstain from the substance, as well as a new, positive outlook on life so that they can move on and become stronger.
Coping Mechanisms Stress is one of the biggest factors for people starting down the road to drug addiction in the first place. Substance Abuse Counselors help individuals to view stress in a new light, so that they don’t view it as something they need to escape, but rather, as something that can be worked through. Coping mechanisms are developed so that they can learn new methods to work through stressful situations.
Foster Healthy Relationships Counseling also helps those who suffer from addiction by helping them to foster healthy relationships in the family. This can be done in individual, as well as group settings. Group sessions in particular help everyone to understand and cope with the problem of addiction.

Family Counseling

family counseling

A Certified Addictions Counselor can also provide continued support to the family to minimize the effect, help them understand the situation better, as well as prevent any highly-affected family members from also starting down the road of substance abuse themselves.

Substance Abuse can have long-term effects – not just on the one battling addiction, but on members of the family as well. Children of individuals who have abused substances are more likely to abuse substances in the future. They’re also more likely to suffer from poor mental health and conditions such as:

  • Poor self-image
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling helpless
  • Inability to cope with trials


In order to battle these and other negative thoughts or emotions, continued family counseling is needed to ensure that everyone’s mental health is taken into consideration and protected.

For those individuals struggling with drug addiction that actually want to seek help, their family is one of their top priorities. Substance Abuse Counselors consistently evaluate and monitor the progress of the entire family unit. The more united the family, the more likely the one struggling with addiction is motivated to stay on the right path. 

Relapse Prevention & Recovery

Life, in general, is stressful, and Substance Abuse Counselors are well aware of this. They take this into consideration as they continually monitor the progress of the addiction sufferer. They help to identify problem areas that might lead to a relapse, and how to avoid such an occurrence.

Stressors that could occur are:

  • A change in family situation (i.e. new baby, death of a family member)
  • Stress at work
  • Health problems
  • Economic issues


If a relapse was to unfortunately occur, the Counselor would then offer further help in the form of more counseling as they help the individual to figure out what the trigger was, and how to avoid it in the future. 

The Counselor will also implement an updated treatment plan in order to aid in recovery from the recent relapse. A new plan in place also helps prevent any relapses from occurring in the future.

Long-Term Support

The goal of counseling and any Interventions Program is to eventually get the individual to a point where they’ve been able to remain clean for a long period of time without relapse, as well as be able to cope with the common stressors they face in their lives. 

Because of the nature of addiction, however, no one is fully immune to the substance they have been addicted to, and can be tempted to go to the substance again if the situation arises – this is particularly the case when it comes to alcohol, as its often offered in social settings. However, this too can be overcome with the right Counselor.

Substance Abuse Counselors take their job very seriously and genuinely care about their clients, their well-being, and their families. This moves them to continue to follow-up with their clients occasionally to see how they’re doing, if they need assistance, and to encourage them to keep fighting.

This continued support helps the individual to know they’re never alone in their journey and assures them that if they need to turn to someone, their Counselor is only a phone call away.

Conclusion: How and Where To Find Substance Abuse Counselors Across Canada

Taking the first step to recovery is one of the biggest steps. First, the individual seeking help will want to seek out a good Interventions Program. One of the first places to start looking is the Canada Drug Rehab website. They have a comprehensive list of Substance Abuse Counselors and programs available in various areas throughout Canada.

When choosing a Substance Abuse Counselor, it’s important to go with someone who’s qualified, compassionate and knows what they’re doing. 

One such option is Andy Bhatti Interventions & Addiction Services. Their caring, knowledgeable staff provides high-quality Addiction Counseling throughout Canada. 

The founder, Andy Bhatti, has even personally dealt with the battle of drug addiction – and won! He wants to help others do the same – and he has.

They even provide emergency service within 48 hours to various areas in Canada.

Reach out to Andy Bhatti today, and let us help get, and keep you on the road to recovery.

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