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Substance Abuse Counseling – The Profession

The substance abuse counseling profession is a vocation or occupation that requires advanced education and training. Twenty years ago, treatment was provided by people in recovery from alcohol and other drug (AOD) addictions, who would only use their own experiences to help others. The problem with this is that recovering individuals do not know how to treat different issues that co-occur with addiction such as poly-drug use and mental disorders. Although recovering individuals are able to relate to others dealing with addictions, mainly to the same drug of choice, they do not have the training and the skills to understand the differences among drugs of abuse, their effects on the brain and the body, and the believes and attitudes of people from diverse cultural and ethnical backgrounds.

The substance abuse prevention field is in its early stages, i.e., it is just developing as a discipline. The goal is to create standards of training and practice so that practitioners are able to handle the complexity of substance abuse and everything that comes with it. Part of the training for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) prevention professionals, is to explore their own attitudes about ATOD. It is not surprising to find practitioners who debate over terminology such as recovered vs. recovering addict, or the 12-Steps and the Big Book vs. religion and the bible.

Concepts such as use, abuse, misuse, dependence, and addiction vary from person to person. Substance abuse prevention professionals need to keep in mind that use and abuse of substances is not determined by their own experiences, but by standard definitions. For instance, substance use is the ingestion of alcohol or other drugs (AOD) without experiencing any negative consequences. Substance misuse is when a person experiences negative consequences from the use of AOD, or when the use of them is illegal. Substance abuse is the continued use of AOD in spite of negative consequences.

Addiction, also called dependence, is the compulsive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) regardless of the consequences.

Substance abuse prevention strategies used in the past have been ineffective. Strategies such as Just Say No, Prohibition, and the illegalization of drugs that used to be legal, have not given the results expected. The criminalization of people who suffer from addiction is probably one of the least effective strategies.

Research in substance abuse prevention is helping develop effective theories that include risk and protective factors and resiliency, just to mention a few.

Reference: Substance Abuse Prevention – Julie A. Hogan 

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