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What Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors Do

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors advise people who have alcoholism or other types of addiction, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help the client recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.


Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically do the following:

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients both one-on-one and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problem with family and friends.

Many addiction counselors work with other health and mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, social workers, doctors, and nurses. Some work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. In these settings, treatment professionals work in teams to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients. For more information, see the profiles on social workers, physicians and surgeons, and registered nurses.

Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering their life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other problems to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Some substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work in private practice, where they work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals. These counselors manage their practice as a business. This includes working with clients and insurance companies to receive payment for their services. In addition, they market their practice to bring in new clients.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition