A competent substance abuse counselor must have a basic understanding of addiction. She/he must have knowledge about:
- the terms and concepts related to theory, etiology, research, and practice,
- criteria and methods used to evaluate models and theories (we should always question what we learn),
- how to apply those theories and models appropriately,
- how to access literature on addiction-related topics, i.e, research skills.
While doing this, the substance abuse counselor must possess certain attitudes, such as:
- being open to information that may differ from personal beliefs,
- appreciate the complexity in understanding addiction,
- value diverse ways of thinking expressed in theories and models,
- flexibility to form personal concepts through critical thinking.
The substance abuse counselor must be able to recognize the social, political, economic, and cultural context surrounding addiction and substance abuse. This is important because different living environments create the conditions for people to have both risk and protective factors that may lead to or prevent substance abuse and addiction. Knowledge in this area includes:
- Concepts of social, political, economic, and cultural systems and their impact on drug use/abuse.
- The history of licit and illicit drugs.
- Risk and protective factors for substance use/abuse.
- Statistical information about substance abuse disorders in the general population.
Substance abuse counselors must be able to describe the behavioral, psychological, physiological, and social effects of all psychoactive drugs on the person using and significant others. Knowledge in the following areas is necessary:
- Pharmacology of addiction.
- Initiation, intoxication, harmful use, abuse, dependence, withdrawal, craving, relapse, and recovery.
- The relationship of substance use and infectious diseases.
- The relationship between substance use and mental disorders.
Substance abuse counselors must be able to recognize overlapping symptoms for substance abuse, medical conditions, and mental disorders, also known as co-occurring/comorbid disorders, or dual diagnosis. Knowledge is required in:
- Normal and abnormal human growth and development.
- Methods from differentiating substance use disorders from medical conditions or mental disorders.
It is important that the substance abuse counselor does not jump into conclusions before all the assessments and clinical evaluations are completed. Whenever a client’s case is outside of the counselor’s expertise, she/he must be willing to refer the client to the most appropriate care.