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Degrees Explained: Addiction Counselling

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The US is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Cutting across age, class and race, this public health emergency now causes more deaths than car crashes.

Across the pond, young people are increasingly misusing counterfeit Xanax. Scotland saw at least 27 Xanax-related deaths in 2017. Southeast Asia and Australia continue to battle a methamphetamine epidemic, affecting everyone from schoolchildren to middle-aged suburban housewives.

Substance abuse is a global public health concern. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) World Drug Report 2018 states: “This situation calls for renewed efforts to support the prevention and treatment of drug use and the delivery of services aimed at reducing the adverse health consequences of drug use, in line with targets 3.5 and 3.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Individuals who specialise in treating patients who have a chemical dependency on drugs or alcohol through counselling are called Addiction Counsellors or Substance Abuse Counsellors. Generally, they work with clients to help them overcome dependencies and become self-sufficient, as well as with families of clients to help them cope with their loved one’s addiction.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that demand for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counsellors will grow 22 percent by 2024.

Training is required. A bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Sociology, Social Work or another related field is often a prerequisite to be considered for a position.

Some universities, like Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in the US and Wellington Institute of Technology in New Zealand, offer specialised diploma and degree programmes in addiction counselling.

At postgraduate level, US universities like Grand Canyon University, Liberty University, Capella University and Monmouth University offer Master’s studies in Addiction Studies and Addiction Counselling. UK universities offer similar postgraduate qualifications in this field, such as London South Bank University’s MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, University of Salford’s MSc/PGDip/PGCert in Applied Psychology (Addictions) and King’s College London’s MSc in Addiction Studies.

To get an idea of what an undergraduate degree in this field entails, SNHU’s BA in Human Services (Substance Abuse) offers a general example of what students can expect.

The aim of SNHU’s BA is to help students provide entry-level services to individuals, groups and families in residential addiction treatment facilities, outpatient addiction programmes, state drug courts, prisons, mental health centres, community health centres and private practice.

As such, coursework will explore the trajectory of diagnosing, treating and reintroducing a recovering individual to a healthy, sustainable life. This includes learning about screening techniques, prevention strategies, pharmacological factors, and more.

Designed with the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) in mind, students will be taught the 12 Core Functions of a Drug and Alcohol Counsellor: Screening, Intake, Orientation, Assessment, Treatment Planning, Counselling, Case Management, Crisis Intervention, Client Education, Referral, Report and Record Keeping, Consultation.

SUNY’s degree is conducted online and culminates in a capstone experience where students have to apply what they’ve learned in the real world.

By the end of the degree, students should be able to analyse addictive behaviors and substances through psychological or physiological lenses for determining appropriate methods of assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of substance use disorders. They should be able to develop legal and ethical strategies for use during specific stages of substance use disorders, meeting the needs of diverse individuals, families and communities.

A degree in substance abuse counselling offers opportunities to work in addiction, alcohol and drug services. Beyond counselling, other potential job titles include addictions practitioner, policy advisor,  case manager and research assistant, to name a few.

Take note, however, that licensure requirements in each US state are unique, with different exams and fees for specific levels of licensure and certification. Great resources for more information in this include the National Board of Certified Counselors and/or the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals.

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