Substance Abuse Counseling

Drug use is on the rise and affects more than just the user, it affects our society and needs to be addressed. We were fooled into thinking that we were effectively addressing this problem when President Nixon declared a war on drugs. We know better now. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2015, over 50,000 people died from drug overdose in the United States. The number of deaths due to overdose was closer to 20,000 back in 2002. (Overdose Death Rates) Drug abuse has grown over the years and it continues to grow. The USA has been in a war with drugs for years yet things haven’t changed. The mentality that the drugs are evil, and the users are bad people is a sentiment largely held onto because our society was taught that by our government and our parents. Many people have only learned one thing in regards to illicit drug use throughout their education, “Just say no.” Some were never educated on the different types of drugs you may encounter and what is happening in between being an upstanding citizen and the result of looking like you are knocking on deaths door. This doesn’t mean that people don’t get better education on the subject in other schools. It is simply an example of how there is not always focus on true education about drugs and what they do. We, as children, were simply told, “if you don’t want to look like this, just say no.” It is a start when it comes to prevention but it is not all that effective. That is why today the field of substance abuse counseling is growing. Our prevention methods aren’t doing their job. Now, it is of great importance that society focuses part of our energy on treating addiction when prevention fails. A substance abuse counselor educates those struggling with addiction, about their addiction. They educate them on what happens in their body when using and the long-term effects that can even become permanent should the user continue using. They teach valuable coping skills for not just battling cravings, but battling the intense emotions a user goes through when they are in their first few years of sobriety. We need substance abuse counselors.

Why should society be so concerned with substance abuse? Well let’s look at the facts in regards to the economic effects of substance abuse. Our country is losing over $400 billion each year to substance abuse. “Substance misuse and substance use disorders also have serious economic consequences, costing more than $400 billion annually in crime, health, and lost productivity. Alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorders alone costs the United States approximately $249 billion in lost productivity, health care expenses, law enforcement, and other criminal justice costs” (Murthy 31) That is a huge price to pay for the American people. We can also factor in the dangers that we are facing in our everyday lives from people who abuse alcohol, prescription medications, or other illicit substances and choose to get behind the wheel. Then there are the countless crimes related to substance abuse, for example, someone who is desperate to get ahold of their chosen substance might commit a robbery. “In 2004, 17% of state prisoners and 18% of federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs.” (Dorsey 5) In 2016, it was reported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons that 46.4% of inmates were in prison for drug-related offenses. Now to be clear, this can range from simple possession to violent crimes, but it shows us that these substances are taking a huge toll on people’s lives. Therefore, substance abuse is a problem for our society. Not only does it have a huge economic cost, but it is ruining innocent people’s lives. Because of this illness, we have thousands of people who can’t contribute to our society. “Almost 8 percent of the population met diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder for alcohol or illicit drugs, and another 1 percent met diagnostic criteria for both an alcohol and illicit drug use disorder.” (Murthy, 36)

Now that I have addressed the effects of substance abuse in society, I want to specifically address those who meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder, also known as addiction. Per the Surgeon General, in 2015, 20.8 million people met the criteria for addiction. However, only 2.2 million of those people received treatment and only 63.7% received treatment from programs created specifically for substance use disorders. (Murthy 36) Why are so little people receiving the treatment they need? Well part of the issue could be that substance abuse treatment is still quite controversial because there are still a lot of people who think accepting addiction as an illness means an addict doesn’t have to take responsibility. This is a very common misconception about the reference to addiction as a disease. In fact, one huge step in treatment centers and AA/NA groups is to accept responsibility for your actions and choices. Despite this controversy, the United States has made amazing progress. Substance abuse treatment is now covered by most, if not all, insurance plans. Treatment facilities are receiving more funding from government agencies to treat parolees, women and men with CPS cases, and people who simply realized they had a problem but couldn’t afford to pay for a rehab on their own. Substance abuse counseling is a career on the rise. There are millions of people who still need help and want help but due to a limited field, there aren’t enough places for them to go without paying thousands of dollars out of pocket. When you look at the numbers, there is a need for more substance abuse counselors in this country.

So, what does it take to become a substance abuse counselor and is it worth it? Well, the great thing about working in this field is that you can begin gaining work experience with just a certificate program. There are even people who begin working in the field before they begin the education needed to become certified. To become a certified counselor, you need “315 hours of approved education, 255 practicum hours, 3000 hours of work experience at a facility, and to pass the IC&RC ADC exam”. (Get Certified) Therefore, someone could start working in the field in under a year and after about a year and a half of working full time, they can become a substance abuse counselor. The down side, substance abuse counselors don’t make much money, especially without college degrees. The median pay for 2015 was around $40,000. (Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors) In California, the median wage is even lower at about $37,000. (Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors) There is always the possibility to make more money but generally, if you are in it for the money, this isn’t a career for you. The field of substance abuse counseling is most beneficial to the counselor that is passionate about their work regardless of their paycheck. This is not to say there is anything wrong with wanting a career that makes a lot of money, this field just isn’t usually the place for that. It is still possible to make good money. Opening your own private business would allow you to focus on bringing in clients that have the money to pay for an expensive facility. You will also make more money in government facilities with each college degree you earn. As far as career outlook goes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 22% growth in jobs between 2014–2024. That is “much faster than average” job growth rate. Right now, there are a bit more than 94,000 jobs for substance abuse counseling so that means about 20,000 new job opportunities will be created. (Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor) Substance abuse counseling is here to stay.

Substance abuse effects our society economically, criminally, and socially. It is an issue that affects us all in one way or another. Because we used to treat users like they were bad people and saw evil in the drug instead of and illness that needs treatment, the amount of people who still need treatment is huge and we don’t have enough counselors to really tackle the numbers. This profession is just getting started and considering the growth we see in substance abuse as well as the growth projected for available job positions, it isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Even though it is a profession that doesn’t usually lead to a huge paycheck, it can be very rewarding for someone who desires to help people. It can be especially rewarding for someone in recovery to give back the help they once got. We need substance abuse counselors because we now know that the user has a disorder and is not inherently a bad person. We need substance abuse counselors since blaming the drugs isn’t working anymore, due to the fact, “none are inherently evil. All can be abused.” (Courtwright, 2) We need substance abuse counselors to help those who want to change and give them the opportunity to become a productive member of society, which can only benefit the success of our society.

Works Cited

Courtwright, David T. “The Psychoactive revolution.” Forces of Habit, 1st Edition, Harvard UP,

2002, p2. EBSCOhost,

“Overdose Death Rates.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Jan. 2017,

“Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most.” National Institute on Drug

Abuse, Feb. 2016,

“Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors.” Occupational Outlook Handbook,

Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

“Get Certified.” California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals,

Murthy, Vivek and Kana Enomoto. “Introduction and Overview of the Report.” Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Nov. 2016, pp 30–49. Surgeon General,

“Offenses.” Federal Bureau of Prisons, Dec. 2016,

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