Addiction Counselors & Aftercare
Addiction counselors are substance abuse professionals who specialize in helping people throughout the recovery process, which starts with intake and continues through aftercare. Substance abuse counselors are caring professionals who know (often first-hand) how difficult it can be to reach out for help and start the path to sobriety. They are dedicated to helping you achieve and maintain an abstinent and healthier lifestyle.
It’s important to understand that the recovery process is a lifelong journey that continues even after you’ve completed treatment, which is where aftercare, a maintenance form of treatment, begins. If you have not already participated in formal treatment, you’ll need to seek a higher level of care (such as inpatient or outpatient rehab) before you begin aftercare.
Getting Addiction Therapy & Aftercare
Substance abuse counselors are certified or licensed professionals who provide drug counseling to help people struggling with addiction. States may have different requirements regarding education and credentialing for drug rehab counselors. However, most addiction therapists have at least a Master’s degree in their field.1
A drug rehab counselor might be a licensed social worker, certified substance abuse and alcohol counselor, employee assistance program counselor, psychologist, mental health counselor, marriage and family counselor, or licensed professional counselor. While it’s not a requirement, many addiction therapists obtain national certification from the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals.2
An addiction counselor’s goal is to help you achieve and maintain sobriety. Substance abuse counselors know what it takes to become clean and sober and how to best support you throughout the recovery process. They offer a wide range of necessary services to help people become and stay abstinent from drugs or alcohol.3
What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?
An addiction therapist offers guidance, education, support, and monitoring during the treatment process. They aim to establish a trusting, supportive, therapeutic alliance with their clients, which is an important component of successful treatment. They also help people with any immediate, or crisis, issues, offer long-term addiction management strategies, and provide ongoing substance abuse counseling.Addiction counselors can perform a wide range of roles, such as: 4
- Conducting intakes.
- Formulating treatment plans.
- Providing individual drug counseling.
- Offering group, couples, and family counseling.
- Conducting urine and other drug and alcohol screenings.
- Offering education on necessary life and coping skills.
- Monitoring progress and making adjustments to treatment plans as needed.
- Offering referrals as needed.
- Helping people enter support groups.
- Establishing a relapse prevention plan.
What Makes a Great Addiction Counselor?
Studies have found that around 37-57% of drug rehab counselors are in recovery themselves.5 While this is often helpful, it’s not necessary in order to be a great addiction counselor. One of the most important abilities they should have is empathy, or the capability to put themselves in your shoes and understand and feel what you are going through. But they also must hold you accountable for your behavior and actions, which can often seem like tough love.
A substance abuse counselor must uncover underlying issues and effectively address them with the appropriate intervention. They should have the skills and knowledge to help you address your psychological and emotional needs and develop an understanding as to why you developed an addiction in the first place. They must be attentive during your sessions and show that they are truly committed to and interested in your well-being. They must also be able to recognize and address warning signs and signals that could indicate relapse. 3
It is also worth noting that addiction counselors need to have a strong commitment to their ethical responsibilities, which means being able to maintain professional boundaries, respect your rights and personal dignity, and adhere to state and federal regulations.4
Types of Therapy Available
When you enter rehab, you will likely participate in a wide range of therapies, such as:6 7 8
- Biofeedback or neurofeedback. These 2 non-invasive self-help approaches help you gain some control over the autonomic functioning of your body (biofeedback) and brain (neurofeedback). Sensitive instruments are placed on your body or head and you are guided through different ways to change your body’s responses, such as breath rate, heart rate, or brain wave function.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a form of treatment that helps you identify and change maladaptive or dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns by challenging your underlying beliefs and helping you develop healthier coping strategies.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Originally developed as a way to treat people with borderline personality disorder, DBT is a form of CBT that aims to increase your motivation to change, help reduce substance abuse and cravings to use, alleviate physical discomfort that occurs with abstinence and withdrawal, and reduce behaviors that promote drug or alcohol use.
- Meditation and hypnotherapy. These are mind-body approaches that are focused on helping you relax and manage stress, develop mindfulness so that you are more aware of your behaviors, and make positive changes so you can stay abstinent.
- Holistic therapies. This can include a wide range of complementary and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, yoga therapy, herbal medicine, and music therapy, which all help in different ways to enhance the primary forms of treatment.
Support Groups & Aftercare
After you complete a formal treatment program, you should engage in some form of aftercare to receive support so you can stay abstinent. Some of the ways you might participate in aftercare include:
- Individual counseling, where you work one-on-one with a therapist to receive support and continue working on your goals.
- Group therapy, where, under the guidance of a counselor, you work with others who are in recovery so you can benefit from the support and encouragement of the group.
- Family therapy, which is based on the idea that problems in relationships can contribute to or lead to addiction and other dysfunctional behaviors and aims to improve relationship functioning as a way of supporting recovery.
- Support groups, such as spiritually based 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, or secular groups like SMART Recovery or Secular Organizations for Sobriety, which rely on ongoing peer support. Many people are lifelong participants in these groups.
- Sober living homes, which are residences that provide different levels of safe and structured support. These can be very helpful for people who have unsafe or unsupportive home environments or who require additional support before they transition back to living at home.
Other Aftercare Options
Other forms of aftercare include:
- Alumni programs, which are offered by American Addiction Centers (AAC). These programs help you stay connected to your rehab team and the people you met during treatment. This is a beneficial, lifelong way to help maintain your commitment to sobriety.
Telemedicine, or telehealth, offered by American Addiction Centers. Through a variety of technologies, addiction counselors connect with their patients. This can include:
- Virtual support groups, offered by American Addiction Centers, which are especially helpful to maintain connections with others and remain abstinent during times when you are unable to leave your home or if you live in a remote location and cannot easily access in-person groups.
- Alumni engagement apps. American Addiction Centers offers their own app to help you stay supported by connecting with others and offer access to tools such as journals, lists to monitor your triggers, and more.
Do I Need an Addiction Counselor or Aftercare?
If you or someone you care about are struggling with substance abuse, or if drugs and alcohol have become an overwhelming part of your life, then it’s probably time for you to seek help from an addiction counselor. Similarly, if you’ve already been through treatment, then you should participate in aftercare to help cement and maintain your sobriety.
American Addiction Centers Can Help
At American Addiction Centers, we are committed to providing the best addiction treatment to our clients regardless of the level of care. We know how challenging it can be to make the first step in getting help, but we also understand that reaching out is a sign of strength and an indication that you are ready to start taking control of your life. Call us today to see what addiction treatment program would be best for you, whether you’re just taking the first step in recovery or you’re seeking an appropriate aftercare program.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, we understand and are here to help. Keep in mind that even if you don’t have insurance, there are many different ways to make treatment more affordable. In addition, consider the following guides:
1. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2004). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. Chapter 3: Approaches to Therapy Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
2. NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. Certification.
3. Wake Forest University. The role of the counselor in addiction recovery.
4. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Addiction counseling competencies: The knowledge, skills, and attitudes of professional practice. Technical assistance publication (TAP) Series 21. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4171. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
5. Curtis, S. L., & Eby, L. T. (2010). Recovery at work: the relationship between social identity and commitment among substance abuse counselors. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 39(3), 248–254.
6. Keatley, M. & Whittemore, L. (2010). What Is Biofeedback and Neurofeedback?
7. Dimeff, L. A., & Linehan, M. M. (2008). Dialectical behavior therapy for substance abusers. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 4(2), 39–47.
8. Posadzki, P., Khalil, M., AlBedah, A., Zhabenko, O. & Car, J. (2016). Complementary and alternative medicine for addiction: an overview of systematic reviews. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 21 (2), 69-81.