Teen Substance Abuse Counselors Career Guide


In a world where everyone can get just about everything, regardless of whether it’s actually good or bad, it’s often hard to make the right choices, even for adults. Teenagers usually don’t fully understand the difference between right and wrong – or, more often, they understand but believe themselves immune, or they want to go against the grain, so to speak.

Coupled with pressures from school, friends, family problems, and a host of other issues, teenagers are especially susceptible to substance abuse and addiction. When they seek help, either on their own or at the urging of a parent or friend, they usually find themselves under the guidance of a teen substance abuse counselor, whose job it is to help the adolescent recover from drug, alcohol, or any other addiction through compassionate and persistent counseling sessions.

If you are a naturally caring person who works well with young adults, you might consider a rewarding career as a teen substance abuse counselor.

What is a Teen Substance Abuse Counselor?

The role of a teen substance abuse counselor is highly specialized and focuses on providing support and guidance to young people struggling with substance abuse issues. These issues can be with drugs or alcohol but also with other substances, such as food.

Teen substance abuse counselors work with their young clients to better understand the motivation behind their issues and subsequently to modify the approaches to triggers with the ultimate aim of modification of the abusive behaviors.

Teen substance abuse counselors will work with their clients in a variety of ways – on a one-to-one basis, in small groups with families or in group counseling sessions with several clients at once. All types of support are provided with the aim of helping young people manage their substance abuse behaviors and achieve long-term goals.

The relationship between teen substance abuse counselors and their clients is often a long-term one. A counselor in this field will regularly work with the same clients over many months or years to ensure that relapses are minimized and behaviors are significantly modified as the young person moves into adulthood.

What Does a Teen Substance Abuse Counselor Do?

A substance abuse counselor’s primary goal is to focus all his or her effort on providing guidance in procedures and techniques to eliminate a drug, alcohol, or other addiction at its root.

This involves addressing the underlying causes for what led a teenager to seek out the substance in question to begin with, whether the urge stems from peer pressure, family problems, trouble at school, or elsewhere.

From there, the counselor devises a treatment plan to help the patient through his or her recovery, and provides a safe, nonjudgmental environment for the patient to air out any frustrations, fears, or other concerns.

A teen substance abuse counselor, or teen alcoholism therapist, typically makes plans related to the teen’s recovery and makes referrals where necessary, conducts classes on life skills, and holds both group and individual therapy sessions.

Family therapy sessions might also be a common occurrence, so counselors must be able to juggle multiple (and sometimes conflicting) points of view at once to maintain control of a therapy session when it becomes too emotionally charged.

Why Do We Need Teen Substance Abuse Counselor?

Unfortunately there is a need for substance abuse counselors who deal youngsters who abuse alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Teenagers may experiment and indulge in risky behaviors that include substance use. Teens may use controlled substances because they think it makes them more mature, because they want to fit in or because they simply like the way the substance makes them feel.

Sometimes youngsters use the substance only once or twice and become “hooked” when they find it impossible to control their cravings.

Teen substance abuse counselors are needed because teen substance abuse can lead to serious problems. A teenager abusing drugs may find it hard to keep up in school, find themselves at odds with family members at home, lose their friends and find themselves with severe legal problems. Using drugs and alcohol can put the teenager at risk for injury or even death as the result of car accidents, drowning, street violence and suicide.

Drug and alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Teen substance abuse counselors work with teenagers to prevent and treat substance abuse by providing therapy and crisis counseling, designing recovery plans and making referrals to teen substance abuse programs.

Where Does a Teen Substance Abuse Counselor Work?

Counselors work in a variety of settings, most commonly therapeutic communities and rehabilitation centers, hospitals, health agencies, private practices, and addiction treatment and detoxification centers.

Most counselors work a minimum of 40 hours per week, including holidays and late hours depending on the particular center in which they work. Many of their job sites are open 24 hours a day, so keep this in mind when considering this as a possible career choice.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Teen Substance Abuse Counselor?

At a bare minimum, counselors need an bachelor’s degree before they can begin to work in a professional setting. More formal and advanced opportunities generally require additional education, such as a master’s degree in psychology or counseling, along with state licensure.

Students can choose to specialize in many different sub-fields, such as education and prevention, family counseling, compulsive gambling, criminal justice, adolescent treatment, and many more.

After graduation, newcomers to the field can expect to spend at least two years in training before moving beyond entry-level positions. As always, the more education and the more time spent training, the better prospects for advancement a professional faces.

What Skills are Required for a Teen Substance Abuse Counselor?

A job as a teen substance abuse counselor is a role requiring a very unique skill set. Over and above the attributes needed as a counselor, this role also requires the following:

True passion for helping young people

This role requires dealing with people at a difficult time in their lives and with a difficult addicted situation. To be truly successful, a counselor in this area has to genuinely care and want to make a difference in the young person’s life, no matter how difficult that might prove to be.

Relatable to a young audience

By definition, a teenage substance abuse counselor will be dealing with clients at a completely different stage of life to their own. Regardless, counselors in this field need to be able to relate to their clients, take an interest in their passions and discuss things of interest to them. To be able to gain their trust and achieve meaningful results, this has to be believable and credible. Counselors in this area also need a good awareness of the social pressures faced by their young clientele as well as cultural or societal factors that may be influencing their behavior.

Engaging to teenagers

Out of all client age groups, teenagers probably react most strongly to the way in which they are approached. Teen substance abuse counselors, therefore, need to interact with them in an engaging and positive way.

For their clients, they need to capture their interest before maintaining it with discussion of relevance and interest to the young person. Their style needs to be conversational and approachable.

Counselors in this area may also be involved with education programs for young people to alert them to the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Again, for this message to be effective, it must be delivered in a way that the young people relate to and can identify with.

What is the Career Outlook for Teen Substance Abuse Counselors?

Although it reflects negatively on the growing addiction problem among America’s youth, counselors should find no shortage of job opportunities in this field in the years to follow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse counselors can expect a job growth rate of as much as 22% through the year 2031.

What is the Salary for a Teen Substance Abuse Counselor?

According to National Salary Trend, the average annual salary for a substance abuse counselor is $47,000. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the average national mean salary is $53,540, as of May 2021.

Substance abuse counselors employed by agencies, brokerages, and insurance firms earn the highest mean salary of $74,880 per year.

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