Addiction Counselors – Why They Might Be An Addict’s Best Friend

role of addiction counselors

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Addiction counselors are an integral part of the rehabilitation process for alcohol and drug abuse as well as other kinds of addictions. In essence, counselors are the people who help improve a recovering addict’s mental, spiritual, and physiological well-being.
An alcohol or drug addiction counselor is a professional who has been trained to encourage addicts in healthy behaviors and walk beside them in their rehab journey. These trained medical professionals guide individuals who are seeking a way to beat their dependence.

What do counselors do? They use their medical training to lessen the psychological effects of substance abuse. They help clients overcome difficulties during and after the rehab process. They introduce recovering addicts to a number of coping mechanisms that help prevent relapse. Former addicts can use these skills to remain drug or alcohol-free after the formal rehab process is over.

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Table of Contents

Addiction Counselling: An Overview

Addiction is a habit in which an individual indulges despite its harmful consequences. It is a disease of the brain and is associated with long-term alterations in the structure and function of this vital organ.

The underlying cause can be genetic, environmental, or both. Some people are genetically prone to compulsive behaviors. Other people are driven to dependence by stressful life events that make them vulnerable. People become addicted to something for a number of reasons. It could be for a short-lived but intense feeling of pleasure. It could be to escape from social anxiety. It could be to improve performance. Or it could be simply out of curiosity.

Effective therapies for substance abuse address both the physical and mental effects. Detox programs are essential to gradually reduce cravings and safely and comfortably withdraw from drugs and alcohol. Addiction counseling helps recovering addicts address the underlying cause of the problem. In addition, counseling for alcohol and drug dependence is effective in treating co-existing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Addiction counseling services are available in a variety of settings, including outpatient rehab programs, residential/inpatient programs, support groups, private practice, and sober living communities. The goal of addiction counseling is to prepare addicts for daily life after the intensive treatment has been completed. A person with substance abuse issues may need to see a counselor for many months or even years. As time goes on and the individual learns to cope with life stressors and triggers, the frequency and duration of therapy reduce.

Types of Addiction Counseling: Research-Based Practices and Rehab Programs

Left untreated, harmful habits can turn into unhealthy obsessions that cause ongoing destruction. Dependence can result in serious health effects and a number of ailments or even death in severe cases. Perhaps the most rampant addictions worldwide are illicit drugs and alcohol. However, there are other types of addictions as well. Some of the most common ones that afflict people include:

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Food
  • Sex or porn
  • Gambling
  • Tobacco
  • Gaming and Internet
  • Shopping
  • Pain (self-infliction)

Unfortunately, drug and alcohol dependence has been on the rise in the past few years. Addiction counselors identify the underlying cause of the problem and suggest solutions that fit the client’s physiological state. The three stages of counseling are:

  • Initial disclosure and relationship building
  • Problem assessment and in-depth exploration
  • Goal setting and commitment to action

A number of addiction counseling services are available to help individuals with dependence problems. An addictions counselor may offer one or more of the following therapies:

Individual Therapy: This type of therapy provides an intensive level of care with individual counseling sessions and a customized treatment plan. These one-on-one sessions give the therapist time to explore the patient’s psyche in depth.

Family Therapy: Sessions include participation by the addict’s spouse, parent, sibling or another close family member. This is an effective method where the addict can discuss issues in the presence of loved ones.

Group Therapy: Sessions are led by a licensed professional. The recovering addict can explore issues in a safe environment with peer support. Support groups allow people in recovery to share their problems with others facing similar situations. The professional addiction counselor provides direction and helps people relate to one another and find emotional support in the group.

Experiential Therapy: This activity-centered counseling service uses equine therapy, games, and outdoor challenges to identify strengths and weaknesses and build confidence, trust, and boundaries. These recovery-oriented challenges are useful for developing the skills and social support that are essential for addiction recovery and prevention of relapse.

Expressive Therapies: Clients express their emotions through art or music and use creativity as an aid to recovery. Counselors guide clients in expressing their underlying thoughts and emotions through creative pursuits.

Trauma Therapies: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing are treatments that allow clients to process past traumatic experiences that influence substance abuse.

Psycho-Educational Therapies: This is a type of counseling with interactive group sessions that teach lifelong skills to refuse drugs, deal with social pressures, and ask for help to prevent relapse.

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Role of Addiction Counselors in Rehab and Recovery

Unlike physicians who primarily treat physical signs and symptoms in patients, addiction counselors focus on the client’s psyche. Good counselors understand that no two people are alike. The most important task of a counseling program is to cater to the unique needs of each individual with substance abuse problems.


Therapy and counseling help people in recovery understand the underlying cause of their problem. Addiction therapists teach individuals the skills to recognize triggers for relapse and the coping strategies necessary to deal with stressful situations. Certified addiction counselors help clients find the motivation that is essential to overcome their dependence.

The number one quality of a good counselor is to enable a client to express themselves openly and freely. In addition, counselors help addicts examine and investigate various aspects of their life that were previously repressed.

Contrary to common belief, addiction therapists are neither judgmental nor do they play the role of advisors. A recovering addict is not expected to behave in a particular way. Therapists are trained to help clients become the best version of themselves. A counselor does not view the addict’s problems from his or her own perspective or become emotionally involved with a client. They simply serve as mentors and help people explore underlying emotions that led them to dependence. Simply put, they help addicts see the situation more clearly.

Different counselors are trained to treat various types of dependence problems. The one thing they all have in common, though, is that they help clients identify the problem and walk beside them through the rehab process. These professionals provide psychological help to those who need it most. Ultimately, it is their job to get individuals in recovery back on track with empathy (understanding the issues), warmth (being non-judgmental), and genuineness (an honest approach).

Addiction Counseling Techniques

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for addiction treatment. Different people benefit from different approaches, depending on age, type and severity of dependence, and underlying triggers that contributed to the problem. Therapists use a number of counseling techniques to help individuals in recovery avoid high-risk behavior and cope with triggers.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This is a popular form of treatment because it helps addicts anticipate risky situations, practice self-control, and modify dangerous behavior. Therapists teach important lifelong skills such as recognizing triggers and developing strategies to cope with stressful situations. CBT is effective for people with a dependence on alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, methamphetamines, and cocaine.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: This treatment helps clients to regulate emotions and thoughts and prevent self-destructive behaviors. The emphasis is on accepting uncomfortable thoughts and overcoming them. By learning to control breathing and relax muscles, addicts become more aware of their feelings and how they influence harmful behavior. DBT is effective in treating a number of disorders that frequently co-exist with addiction, such as personality disorders, mood disorders, and eating disorders.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy: These sessions help reduce doubt about seeking treatment for substance abuse problems. The goal is to encourage clients to engage in treatment to stop drug or alcohol use. This type of therapy is effective for people addicted to alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. It involves two to four individual counseling sessions that promote self-motivation.

The Matrix Model: This is a set of evidence-based therapies that include family and support group participation to prevent relapse. Individuals in recovery are given a framework to prolong abstinence. This model is effective for people with cocaine or methamphetamine addiction as it boosts the client’s self-worth and promotes behavior change. Drug testing is conducted on individuals in this program.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: This type of therapy helps people handle the distress associated with past traumatic events, which are sometimes triggers for substance abuse. By reprocessing memories, clients learn to think of a past event in a less painful manner. The training redirects the brain to associate the memory with less distressing feelings. EMDR is effective for people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Seeking Help for Substance Abuse: When Addiction Counseling Is Needed?

Perhaps the most important step in beating dependence is realizing there is a problem. It is not without reason that addiction is called the disease of denial. It can be incredibly difficult for a person with dependence to be objective about seeking help. Not everyone can cope with stressful situations. Many people do not get help because they think they have not hit rock bottom or their problem is really not that bad.

Counseling is effective for individuals with drug and alcohol addiction because it helps identify the problem, increase motivation, change self-destructive behaviors, and prevent relapse. Addiction counselors help addicts overcome the habits that led to the problem in the first place. With time, clients learn coping skills to maintain sobriety and lead a healthy life.

Do addicts need addiction counseling services? If a loved one has lack of control and a desire to quit but is unable to do it, this indicates a problem. Spending a lot of time trying to get an illicit or harmful substance is another red flag. Irresponsible behavior, relationship problems, and a lack of interest in work and family are also criteria for seeking counseling. Cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal are signs that the person needs medical attention as soon as possible.

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  • Derek McDoogle
    I did not know the fact that counseling for alcohol and drug dependence is effective in treating co-existing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. My cousin urgently needs help to treat her drug abuse and his wife does not know what to do. Thanks for the information about the private practice a counselor can provide, I will share this information with them and it might help them decide to start treatment as soon as possible.