Close up of an addiction counselor holding the hands of a drug addict

What Should I Look For In An Addiction Counselor?

Last Updated: Tue, January 23, 2024

There is no exact science to treating addiction disorders. Some try one day at a time, others try talking it out. Some try substitution drugs and placebos. Others promote psychedlics to reset the brain. Needless to say, there are many roads to recovery.

As a result, this can also lead to some confusion about which method is best for you. Different approaches cater to different beliefs and individual needs. So if you're a Catholic looking for guidance, or a product of genetic alcoholism, there are specialists for both, and professional help is always a good option.

Many treatment centers operate on 30 to 90 day programs, and While these are great for helping you detox and providing you with skills needed to survive, it's hard to imagine one 90-day program will provide a lifetime cure. For many addicts in recovery, this is why they occasionally do another stint in rehab even if they haven't relapsed. For others though, they want additional support in their day-to-day lives. This is where drug addiction counselors come into the picture. The problem is, you may not know if you need a professional substance abuse counselor or a therapist or something else. Here to dispel some of the nebulousness, are the differences between the professions and what to look for in an addiction counselor.

What Are Counselors?

Counselors tend to work within rehabilitation centers, prisons, and medical institutions. Their requirements vary between states, but most of the time, a licensed counselor is required to have a master's degree in social work or psychology and, very often, a doctorate. They also must complete practicum hours before they become certified substance abuse counselors. While the hours vary state to state, it's not uncommon to need 3,000 hours (or the equivalent of 2 years' experience) in the field.

Counselors tend to feature myriad different types of treatment depending on the level of counselor (more on that later). They may host and lead group therapy sessions with other individuals suffering from the same issue. They can create discussion groups and provide guidance/mediation throughout the meeting. However, licensed addiction counselors can provide one-on-one counseling out of a private practice to help an individual manage their cravings and triggers.

The level of care will also differ significantly depending on the type of counselor, but broadly they tend to target the problem directly. Other professions, such as therapists, may look at your childhood and past to help manage your present problem, but counselors focus on the problem at hand. They tend to keep the conversation focused around what you can do today to stay sober tomorrow.


A Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) differs from a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC) in the same way a licensed practical nurse (LPN) differs from a registered nurse (RN) in a hospital, but as that's a lot of acronyms, here's the short version:

Both the certified counselors and licensed counselors are granted such titles from the state government with the major difference between them being CADCs require supervision and, while they can make recommendations, they cannot make a diagnosis. LCADCs can work independently and make a diagnosis, which also means LCADCs can run their own private practice.

Often, a CADC is who you meet with during (and following) rehabilitation treatment. An LCADC is someone you may choose to work with on your own.

In terms of who to work with, again, drug addiction counselors focus on addiction, triggers, withdrawal, and cravings. That's typically the focus, so if you want help with just your addiction, a counselor is the best route.

What Are Therapists or Psychotherapists?

Psychotherapy (or therapy as it's more colloquially known) is more of an umbrella term. Therapists don't necessarily specialize in any one area (such as substance abuse), but they can help with addiction, as well as address other disorders and issues.

Most therapists have a PhD in psychology or psychiatry, but must also be certified by the state they're in. The requisites for certification varies between states, but they also must complete a significant amount of practicum hours.

Therapists tend to be private practices although they can occasionally be found through hospitals and rehab centers.

In terms of their level of care, therapists tend to focus on the whole person, not just the disorder. So while you may see a therapist for substance abuse, they may find out what brought you to that drug in the first place as well as serve as an outlet for ongoing recovery issues and support.

As a result, therapists are usually considered for long-term help whereas a counselor is used as needed.

What are Hypnotherapists?

Hypnosis is not hokum -- let's get that right. To become a hypnotherapist, you must obtain a master's degree, and a couple years' of experience in the field and be licensed by the state you're in.

Hypnotherapists usually work in private practice, but the best way to find the right one (with proper accreditation) is to get a professional referral.

Hypnotherapists tend to have two types of approaches: traditional and Ericksonian. Traditional is putting the person into a state of unconsciousness and giving them direct commands, such as "You don't need to use drugs." For people who are more analytical however, this approach does not always work and that's when the Ericksonian approach was developed. Ericksonian hypnotherapy uses the power of suggestion to alter your cravings. A person is put into a state of unconsciousness, but given suggestions to urges instead of commands. So when you feel the urge to drink or use drugs, you start thinking of negative consequences and aspects.

What Should You Look For In An Addiction Counselor?

First and foremost, you should consider if you're looking for a solution to drug use or mental health. A drug addiction counselor or hypnotherapist is ideal in this respect.

If you have a family history of drug use or -- and maybe more importantly, if you don't -- a therapist helps tackle other mental issues that may be the root of the problem. Additionally, if you're looking for someone to confide in and build a long-term relationship with, then a therapist would be the best option for you.

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