Understanding Addiction

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.

TAP 21


  1. yvette thomas says:

    check out http://www.iaodapca.org. this is the IL certification board and they have a list of books and CEU ha can be obtained either on line, webcast on the old fashioned way 🙂 It is really a good source for resources and literature also check out Hazelden they have alot of info as well including CEU’s they even allow you to set up an account order now pay later or on a budget plan. 🙂 Laban’s Addiction Specific Trainings is a Home Study Training for
    Chemical Dependency Counselors, Licensed Professional Counselors, Mental Health Professionals and Clinical Social Workers. They provide CEUs as well and informs you on what states accept their program.Terence T. Gorski GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
    (www.tgorski.com; http://www.cenaps.com; http://www.relapse.org) he has an excellent book and workbook on relapse prevention. a lot of relapse prevention specilist use his material and when I did relapse prevention groups I used his material. Gorski’s book also help me and others prpare for the certification exam. I will pass more on to you as my senior moments pass 🙂 Hope this helps

  2. yvette thomas says:

    A good reference book is Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior by Charles Ksir, Carl L. Hart and Oakley Ray. Alot of the drug questions was on the test when I took it in Alabama. this book helped me alot and it is a good reference book as well.

    • You are right! I have that book and I really like it. Soon I will publish a list of recommended readings, which will include everything I read when I was working on my Addictions Counseling certificate, from textbooks, to research articles, and all the free-online materials from SAMHSA.

      Thanks Yvette.

  3. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the likes and the comments. How would you describe your experience working at the addictions center? how bad is the current situation in regards to addiction in Canada?

  4. Hey Samantha, I work a few days a week at an Addictions Center in Canada. We could sure use more counselors who ‘get it’. Don’t quit!

    • yvette thomas says:

      Hi Scott, I would like to know what type of resources and material are being used for the program you work in. I am always looks for new resources and material

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