Substance Abuse Counselors

Teens with an addiction to drugs, tobacco, or alcohol can benefit from seeing a substance abuse counselor. These counselors can help teens deal with the many issues that are connected to substance abuse. Keep reading for tips on substance abuse counseling.

Substance abuse can stem from many causes, including:

  • Poor coping skills
  • Mental health problems
  • Peer pressure
  • Negative events in a teen's life

A substance abuse counselor is trained to help teens recognize and deal with the issues that lead to substance abuse, find better ways to cope with life’s problems, and form healthier habits. Substance abuse can also lead to both physical and mental addiction or dependence. Substance abuse counselors can work with doctors to help teens overcome these problems.

Substance abuse counselors can help teens in a variety of settings. Some work in hospitals or residential drug treatment centers for teens, while others have an office where patients come to meet with them. Substance abuse counselors often work with other medical professionals as part of an addiction treatment program.

Counselors working with teens may meet with patients one on one, with their families, or in group therapy sessions. Teens or their families may see a substance abuse counselor voluntarily, or it may be a part of a treatment program. Meetings may be daily, weekly, or less often, and the amount of time a teen will need to continue seeing a substance abuse counselor will vary depending on his or her situation. Most of what is said in counseling sessions must be kept confidential.

A substance abuse counselor helps teens by identifying causes for their substance abuse problems and then helping the teen develop and follow a recovery course. The counselor cannot force a teen to participate, so teens who are willing to admit they have a problem and to try to fix it will get more out of seeing a substance abuse counselor. Other teens may take longer to show any improvement. Even teens who do participate voluntarily may relapse. Substance abuse counselors can also help family members of those who have an addiction.

Substance abuse counselors must go through a college graduate program and usually receive additional training, They may also need a certificate or license from the state to practice. Substance abuse counselors for teens should have experience working with young people. Look for a substance abuse counselor with a good reputation, such as one recommended by school administrators or counselors, the teen's doctor, other parents, or another trusted person.

Substance abuse counseling is often covered by health insurance plans. If you don't have insurance, or if it doesn't cover counseling, many state and local health or mental health departments offer reduced price or free help.

Parents or other concerned adults can help teens who need substance abuse counseling by:

  • Setting a good example by not abusing drugs
  • Showing love, concern, and support for the teen
  • Teaching teens that it's okay to need help, and not acting ashamed of them for going to counseling
  • Being patient as the teen works through his or her problems, and possibly backslides on occasion. It may take time to see results and changes.
  • Involving the family, such as by attending family counseling sessions
  • Being an advocate for the teen by making sure they are getting good care and have a good, qualified counselor who is helping them in the ways they need help. If cultural or language barriers are a problem, make sure they are being addressed.

Parents with more questions about substance abuse help can call a national substance abuse hotline, such as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.


SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center, "Helping Your Children Navigate Their Teenage Years: A Guide for Parents" [online]

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, "Counselors" [online]

Related Article: Cognitive Behavior Therapy >>