Paths to Substance Abuse Counseling Careers
The history of substance abuse counseling is unique, in that successful substance abuse programs have often been established by recovering addicts or alcoholics without elaborate educational credentials. Such programs are often staffed by people in recovery who do not have a lot of formal training other than the years of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Some have spent time in prison for drug related offenses. Those that go into rehabilitation counseling and do it well bring a wealth of knowledge learned from experience about the addictive personality and how to deal with it.
Certification and Licensing
This history has led to a melange of licensing requirements that differ substantially from state to state. Most have several levels of licensure or certification and some do not require a graduate degree or in some cases, allow substantial work experience to substitute for a graduate level degree. What they do typically require is selected classes in rehabilitation work and thousands of hours of work in a licensed substance abuse rehabilitation facility. In other words, you can gravitate to rehab work after you're in recovery but you usually can't work as a certified counselor without several years of work at an entry level position.
But states that treat licensing drug and alcohol counselors the same way they treat licensing clinical social workers often want to see an MSW plus hundreds, if not thousands, of hours worked in substance abuse rehabilitation. Working as a managing or supervising counselor in a rehabilitation clinic generally requires an MSW and perhaps additional training. Working at a university or in a hospital in rehabilitation intervention will almost always require an MSW or a graduate degree in a related field.
A carefully managed MSW program with the right field work placements can help you toward earning a clinical or supervisorial position in substance abuse rehabilitation. Many people who enter rehabilitation work with the enthusiasm that recovery can create find themselves returning to school repeatedly as they reach successive levels of employment opportunity. For MSW graduates, some schools offer a graduate certificate in addiction treatment that can help circumvent some of the experience requirements associated with full licensure in the field.
Working in Addiction Rehabilitation
There is more to rehab counseling than working with addicts. Addiction is rightfully described as a "family disease" because the addict or alcoholic creates massive dysfunction within a family. Addiction is something that is an alien concept to those who are not afflicted with it. Because family members haven't experienced the obsession that drives addiction, they cannot understand the destructive and often monstrous behavior that accompanies it. An MSW working in addiction counseling may find that working with families is an important part of the job.