Carrie Nation smashed saloons with a hatchet in the early 1900s. The Eighteenth Amendment banned alcohol sales in 1919 until its repeal 14 years later. The war on drugs has raged since the 1970s, spawning mass incarceration and violence.
Widespread attempts to control substance abuse have gone on for well over a century, with decidedly mixed results. Meanwhile, substance abuse social workers and other mental health professionals quietly go about the business of helping people with substance use problems. They work with individuals and small groups, helping people acknowledge, face, and overcome their issues.
Those issues affect tens of millions of Americans, a number augmented by the recent opioid epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:
A lot of folks out there need some help. If you're concerned enough to want to get involved, you may be wondering how to become a substance abuse social worker. This article answers that question and also reviews:
Substance abuse social workers help people get their lives back on track as they battle substance abuse challenges, strive to change their behavior, and improve their mental health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists typical duties that include:
"There are numerous benefits to working as a substance abuse counselor," writes Nicole Arzt, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "Each day brings something different. Likewise, each client provides you with a new experience. You will witness transformative change and you will be a part of helping change lives."
Here are some of the primary methods substance abuse social workers use to treat addiction, according to the College of Social Work at Florida State University (FSU):
"You have to have a game face and a demeanor that's empathetic to the issue from the past but completely focused on the future," Daniel Hernandez, a Los Angeles social worker, told the Chicago Tribune. "You have to let your client know that you are the person who is going to help them make the move into tomorrow. That's what I tell my clients–we need to move to tomorrow–and then I tell them how I'm going to help them do it."
This challenging but rewarding career offers people an opportunity to transform lives. Substance abuse can devastate not only the abuser but also the people in their orbit, including romantic partners, children, parents, friends, and coworkers.
The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC) offers six reasons to become a substance abuse social worker:
Outcomes vary, but transitions can be dramatic.
"The great feeling is when you see they get their lives back," says Troy Jackson, a clinical social work/therapist in Philadelphia. "They become good sons, good daughters; they can reunite with family. I'll see them five, 10 years later and they'll say, 'Hey, I'm pregnant; hey, I have a new house, a new job.' Whatever it is, you know you made an impact on their lives."
The qualifications for becoming a substance abuse social worker vary widely. Some jobs require only a high school diploma, according to the BLS; others a master's degree. But most require, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in a subject such as social science, psychology, or public policy and social services.
You'll need a state license for private practice, a requirement that often includes obtaining a master's degree and/or passing an exam. We'll take a closer look below at some of the requirements in different states.
NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, offers a variety of certifications, listed here. So do the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the American Counseling Association.
Arizona State University (ASU) lists some helpful skills for anyone interested in becoming a substance abuse social worker:
Patients need counseling in a variety of settings. You'll find substance abuse social workers in:
The Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling licenses substance abuse counselors in the Sunshine State. Requirements include:
The Kentucky Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors (ADC) issues licenses at two levels: Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) and Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC). CADC requirements include:
LCADC requirements include:
The North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board (NCSAPPB) provides counseling credentials. Requirements for becoming a Certified North Carolina Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) include:
The requirements for becoming a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) generally include:
Licenses in Ohio are issued by the state Chemical Dependency Professionals Board. Ohio offers three levels of license: Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor II (LCDC II), Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor III (LCDC III), and Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor (LICDC).
Requirements for all levels include 2,000 hours of chemical dependency counseling-related work experience and 220 hours of experience in chemical dependency counseling. Additional requirements include:
Licenses for substance abuse counselors in Pennsylvania are issued by the Department of State. Requirements include:
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission issues substance abuse counseling licenses in the Lone Star State.
Texas has a two-step licensing system: an internship stage, Counselor Intern (CI), followed by a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) stage. Requirements at the CI stage include:
LCDC requirements include all of the above, as well as:
Licenses to become a substance abuse counselor in Wisconsin come courtesy of the Department of Safety and Professional Services. Requirements include:
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