What is the Role of a Substance Abuse Counselor in Recovery?

Responsibilities, Qualities, Skills & Requirements of a Substance Abuse Counselor

Defining a Substance Abuse Counselor

A substance abuse counselor is an individual with experience in giving substance abuse treatment to clients suffering from drug or alcohol addiction and wants to learn how to reduce or remove their unhealthy dependence on destructive substances and behaviors. Substance abuse counselors work with individuals, couples, families, and groups to share various techniques and treatments for coping with problems in ways other than turning to unhealthy substances.

Group therapy can lead to discussions about family dynamics and how unhealthy relationships can create or feed into addictive behaviors. Once these dysfunctions are identified, the client can begin making important post-treatment plans with a substance abuse counselor.
Group therapy can lead to discussions about family dynamics and how unhealthy relationships can create or feed into addictive behaviors. Once these dysfunctions are identified, the client can begin making important post-treatment plans with a substance abuse counselor.

Counseling a person who is struggling with substance abuse before it becomes “dependence” or “addiction” requires treatment and a recovery plan, It’s the counselor’s responsibility to help these individuals recover from substance abuse and addiction. Although a counselor’s job is to mostly center on the addiction itself, counselors also address any underlying issues.

These issues can vary from social, mental health, job-related, and emotional issues. A substance abuse counselor understands that addiction is a disease, and they know that it is treatable with the right treatment, time, and intervention sessions. It should also be realized that not all treatments work well for every person struggling with addiction. Treatment plans are personalized to help that specific person recover.

Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

Get Your Life Back

Find Hope & Recovery. Get Safe Comfortable Detox, Addiction Rehab & Mental Health Dual Diagnosis High-Quality Care at the We Level Up Treatment Centers Network.

Hotline (877) 378-4154

What Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Do?

With the guidance of a substance abuse counselor, a person can explore and learn what caused the use of drugs or alcohol, process, and share feelings, develop an awareness of negative thought and behavior patterns, learn healthy coping skills, recognize potential triggers, and create a long-term strategy to maintain sobriety. Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs rely heavily on the value of substance abuse counseling.

A substance abuse counselor’s role is to:

  • Administer and manage substance abuse evaluations and general assessments. This includes the clients’ physical and mental health, addiction, or problematic behavior and assesses their readiness for treatment.
  • Give unbiased emotional guidance and support for individuals throughout a treatment program
  • Conduct one-on-one, couples, and family therapy sessions to get to the root of the addiction
  • Provide psychoeducation
  • Facilitate process groups and group exercises
  • Conduct periodic drug and alcohol tests
  • Develop a specific plan for treatment based on the clients’ individual needs and goals
  • Help create an aftercare program based on care available in your area

The substance abuse counselor will also manage group therapy sessions that often include family members or other patients in addiction treatment. This will allow discussions about family dynamics and teaches family members about addiction or mental disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems. The Substance abuse counselor also encourages 12-step participation (at least one or two times per week) and makes referrals for needed supplemental, psychiatric, medical, employment, and other services [1].

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for Accredited Drug & Alcohol Rehab Centers Near You? Or Mental Health Support?

Even if you have failed previously, relapsed, or are in a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. Call us when you feel ready or want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

FREE Addiction Hotline – Call 24/7

Essential Skills of a Substance Abuse Counselor Needs

Empathy for the Client

Individuals who ask for help from counselors are often feeling overwhelmed and stressed. A hopeful substance counselor should learn how to show empathy so they can establish trust with their clients. This is important because it can help develop clients’ willingness to be open and forthcoming about their problems.

Creating a Safe Space for the Client

In order for counseling to be productive, clients need to feel as if their behaviors, thoughts, or feelings aren’t being judged or compromised. Clients who feel that their counseling sessions provide a safe and reliable space for them to talk about their problems without hesitations or fear of disapproval are more likely to share information easily.

Communicating Positive Intentions to the Client

A substance abuse counselor who understands how to be authentic and genuine with their clients shows they are trustworthy. True communication, which involves speaking to clients clearly, and respectfully, helps encourage and inspire clients to express their true thoughts and feelings.

Listening Skills

A substance abuse counselor needs good listening skills. They must give their full attention to a client to be able to understand that client’s values and problems.


A substance abuse counselor must be able to remain calm when working with all types of clients, including those who may be angry or distressed.

Making sure that the clients are getting an individualized approach is one of the special skills of a substance abuse counselor
Making sure that the clients are getting an individualized approach is one of the special skills of a substance abuse counselor

First-class Facilities & Amenities

World-class High-Quality Addiction & Mental Health Rehabilitation Treatment

Rehab Centers Tour

Renowned Addiction Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient rehab programs vary.

Addiction Helpline (877) 378-4154

Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:


Years of Unified Experience


5-Star Reviews Across Our Centers


Recovery Success Stories Across Our Network

  • Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
  • Onsite Medical Detox Center
  • Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
  • Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
  • Coaching, Recovery & Personal Development Events

Inspiring Active Participation

A substance abuse counselor is not a car mechanic who fixes client problems while they wait. Instead, today’s substance abuse counselors want clients to take an active role in their progress because the more clients put into sessions, the more they will get out of them. In addition, counselors can help clients take responsibility for their success by encouraging them to work hard on the change between sessions, share experiences with other participants during group sessions, and be open to alternative perspectives. Thus an essential skill for all counselors is the ability to inspire clients to be engaged and involved.

Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements

Qualifications to become a substance abuse counselor can vary, often depending upon the type of setting and employer. For most positions, a bachelor’s degree is required to be a substance abuse counselor. A Bachelor of Science in psychology is one type of degree held by a substance abuse counselor. However, for greater professional advancement, most counselors obtain a master’s degree.

To be authorized and licensed to work as a substance abuse counselor, a counselor must hold a master’s degree and have 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Moreover, addiction counselors must complete continuing education courses every year and pass a state-issued exam. However, keep in mind that each state’s regulations are different, and the license and certification requirements change. For instance, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam.

 Substance abuse counselor will work with you one-on-one in private sessions for the entirety of your stay
Substance abuse counselor will work with you one-on-one in private sessions for the entirety of your stay

There is a long tradition of people who have overcome their own addictions to counsel others to overcome their addictions. Counselors with personal experience overcoming drug or alcohol addictions are sometimes viewed as especially insightful and helpful to those seeking treatment.

World-class, Accredited, 5-Star Reviewed, Effective Addiction & Mental Health Programs. Complete Behavioral Health Inpatient Rehab, Detox plus Co-occuring Disorders Therapy.

CALL (877) 378-4154

End the Addiction Pain. End the Emotional Rollercoaster. Get Your Life Back. Start Drug, Alcohol & Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Treatment Now. Get Free No-obligation Guidance by Substance Abuse Specialists Who Understand Addiction & Mental Health Recovery & Know How to Help.

Substance Abuse Counselors vs Social Workers

Substance abuse counselors provide direct support to individuals who are suffering from drug or alcohol abuse and addiction and its underlying causes like mental health issues such as depression, stress, or anxiety. Social workers don’t give direct addiction recovery, or mental health care services, but they do usually help refer individuals suffering from substance abuse and addiction, and mental health conditions to therapeutic services such as counseling.

This great partnership between substance abuse counselors and social workers is important in treating critical substance abuse issues, including the underlying mental health conditions. People who are struggling with addiction often suffer to maintain a desirable quality of life. This will affect their mental well-being over time.

Social workers may assist with life’s necessities like nutrition, housing, and most importantly, treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. In most cases, social workers refer clients with addiction issues to counselors or other mental health care practitioners who specialize in substance abuse counseling. It is clear that mental health counselors, with the support of social workers, can significantly influence positive social change by promoting mental health in the communities they serve [2].

Find the Right Treatment Plan at We Level Up NJ

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorder, or both, you can reach out for help. You are never alone. At We Level Up NJ, you will have a team of professional substance abuse counselors to help you towards a new level of recovery. 

“My Life Today Is Beyond My Wildest Dreams”, Recovery From Alcohol Addiction & Substance Abuse Video

Addiction Recovery Story and Testimonial Video

“At the end of the day, like when you really think about it, like my life today is beyond my wildest dreams.

Back then, I wasn’t able to even want the life that I have now. I wasn’t even able to dream that up. To dream up the, for the most part, peace of mind, for the most part, being able to show up for my family, to be able to buy a home, to be able to care for my dogs, and to be able to be engaged and be in a healthy relationship. You know, these are all things that I wasn’t even able to realize that I wanted because I was so, you know, either blurred out by alcohol or substances or just stuck in my own head.

So I would say, life beyond my wildest dreams is very much true for me today.”

Does Addiction Rehab Work?

Although results can vary from person to person, longer treatment stays frequently lead to greater outcomes. For long-term rehabilitation, detox alone is rarely helpful. Does therapy work? The likelihood of long-term recovery is higher for someone who attends treatment than for someone who does not.

Experience Transformative Recovery at the We Level Up Treatment Center.

See our authentic success stories. Get inspired. Get the help you deserve.

We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy
We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy
We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy
Voluntarily testimonials from the We Level Up Treatment Center network vary. Not intended as a guaranteed treatment or outcome as each person's journey is unique.

Start a New Life

Begin with a free call to an addiction & behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers various recovery programs at each treatment facility. Call to learn more.

  • Personalized Care
  • Caring Accountable Staff
  • World-class Amenities
  • Licensed & Accredited
  • Renowned w/ 5-Star Reviews

We’ll Call You


[1] NIDA – https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/nchav/resources/docs/interventions/contingency-management/NIDA-principles-of-drug-addiction-treatment-a-research-based-guide-third-edition-508.pdf

[2] We Level Up» Rehab » The Roles of Social Workers