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Addiction counselors play an important role in providing clients, families, significant others, and community groups with information about the risks involved with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs use, as well as available prevention, treatment and recovery resources.
Our competencies in this area are:
- To provide education both formal and informal about substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, and the recovery process. In order to help people from multicultural backgrounds, we need to keep in mind:
- Cultural differences among diverse communities.
- Cultural differences in substance use behaviors.
- Delivery of educational programs that are culturally relevant.
- Research and theory on prevention of substance abuse problems.
- Learning styles and teaching methods that we can adapt to our clients.
- How to facilitate discussions in a safe and respectful environment.
- How to preparing outlines and handout materials.
- How to make public presentations to deliver the information effectively.
- Cultural issues in planning prevention and treatment programs.
- Age and gender differences in substance use patterns.
- Culture, gender, and age-appropriate prevention, treatment, and recovery resources.
- Awareness of our own cultural biases.
- To describe the risk and protective factors that increase and decrease the likelihood for an individual, community, or group to develop a substance use disorder. Our knowledge in this area includes:
- Risk and protective factors for the onset of substance use disorders.
- How to present the issues from a non-judgmental perspective.
- To describe the warning signs, symptoms, and the course of substance use disorders. We must be familiar with:
- The continuum of use and abuse, including the warning signs and symptoms of a developing substance use disorder.
- The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) categories or other diagnostic standards associated with psychoactive substance use.
- To describe how substance use disorders affect families and significant others. We need to educate our client about:
- How psychoactive substance use by one family member affects other family members or significant others.
- The family’s influence on the development and continuation of a substance use disorder.
- The role of the family, couple, or significant others in treatment and recovery.
- To describe the continuum of care and resources available to the family and significant others. Our goals are:
- To present available treatment options, including local health, allied health, and behavioral health resources.
- To motivate both family members and the client to seek out resources and services from the full continuum of care.
- To describe different treatment modalities.
- To identify and make referrals to local health, allied health, and behavioral health resources.
- Although this may sounds easy to do, we need to keep in mind the difficulties families and significant others go through when seeking help. We must work from a strengths-based principle, which emphasizes client autonomy.
- We must be familiar with the models for substance abuse prevention and treatment, and recovery from substance use disorders.
- Awareness of our own biases when presenting the information.
- Delivering educational sessions.
Addictions affect the person who has them and also her/his family members and significant others. Counseling addicted families should be required, and offered, as part of every treatment service. Unfortunately, some treatment agencies can only afford treating the person with the addiction, and due to lack of resources and funding they cannot get the family and significant others involved.
Regardless for this situation, substance abuse counselors can offer a competent practice when they have the following knowledge:
- Systems theory and dynamics.
- Dynamics associated with substance use, abuse, dependence, and recovery in families and significant others.
- Interaction patterns on substance abuse behaviors.
- Cultural factors associated with family dynamics and substance abuse disorders.
- Signs and patterns of domestic violence.
Although it is difficult to accept sometimes, the truth is that family members contribute in different ways to the substance abuse behavior. It is not about putting the blame on someone, but inevitably each member of a family plays a specific role in a family’s issue; understanding family dynamics helps us understand why addiction is called a family disease.
As I mentioned in a previous post, in family counseling the client is the family as a whole, always considering individual differences. The required experience an addictions counselor must have in this area includes:
- Models of diagnosis for families
- Intervention strategies appropriate for different stages of the problem.
- Intervention strategies for violence within the family.
- Laws and resources regarding violence within the family.
- Methods for engaging family members and significant others in the treatment and recovery processes.
- Confidentiality and regulations regarding family counseling.
Our goals in family counseling are:
- To help families and significant others understand the effect of their interactions on substance use.
- To assist them in identifying and stopping harmful patterns of interaction.
- To help them learn healthy strategies and behaviors that maintain recovery and promote healthy relationships.
- To assist them with referral to appropriate support resources.