How to Become an Addiction Counsellor: Training and Careers

Updated December 2023

Looking to become an addiction counsellor? Improving the lives of people battling problems with drugs or alcohol can be immensely rewarding.

And the need for these professionals is higher than ever. Canada saw more than 3,500 opiod-related deaths in the first half of 2022 alone. And a recent report says deaths due to alcohol grew by 18 per cent in Canada between 2020 and 2021--the biggest yearly increase in the last two decades.

But what does it take to become an addiction counsellor? How can you get started in this field?

In this post, we provide a clear breakdown of the training and skills every addiction counsellor needs. Here's what you need to know.



Addiction counsellors help people struggling with substance abuse. They guide clients along the path to recovery by helping them develop coping strategies and make healthier life choices.

Counsellors consider each client's challenges and readiness to change. They then create and deliver rehabilitation programs based on the unique needs of each person.

Typical responsibilities for addiction counsellors include:

  • Completing assessments
  • Identifying issues, setting goals, and developing treatment plans
  • Teaching clients how to change their attitudes and behaviours
  • Assessing client progress
  • Setting clients up with support groups
  • Referring clients to doctors, psychiatrists, or other health care providers as appropriate
  • Providing family members with information about addiction and recovery
  • Updating client records

Addiction counsellors work with people in crisis as well as those who are at various stages of recovery. The ultimate goal is to help clients pinpoint and overcome the obstacles to their recovery so they can build a brighter future.



Many addiction counsellors find work at treatment and rehabilitation centres. But these aren't the only options. Other employers include:

  • Hospitals
  • Halfway houses
  • Government agencies
  • Shelters
  • Youth centres
  • Group homes
  • Correctional facilities


what skills & traits are needed to become an addiction counsellor?

Supporting addicts through the recovery process can be very challenging. Many people experience setbacks and relapses. If you're going to become an addiction counsellor, you must be prepared for both triumphs and losses.

Other key skills and traits required for this career include:

  • Listening and empathizing
  • Planning and organizing
  • Connecting with people of diverse backgrounds
  • Establishing trust and building rapport
  • Being compassionate and non-judgmental
  • Staying calm during a crisis
  • Solving problems
  • Persevering in the face of disappointments
  • Keeping up with new treatments and therapies



Getting a bachelor's degree in social work or psychology is one way to become an addiction counsellor. Going this route requires four years of study.

University programs aim to provide a well-rounded education. That's why they combine major-specific classes with social science and humanities courses.

For instance, a bachelor's program in social work typically includes training in:

  • Human behaviour
  • Theories of social work practices
  • Inclusion
  • Political processes and institutions
  • Social policy
  • Health communication and promotion

You will also complete several electives from outside your major. Options could include courses in subjects like:

  • History
  • Language
  • Literature
  • Economics
  • Religion



You can also become an addiction counsellor by completing community support worker training at the college level.

This is a shorter route into the workforce. CSW diploma programs are generally two years long, but some accelerated programs take 12 months or less.

This training is focused exclusively on career-ready knowledge and skills. Everything you learn is aimed at preparing you to support and assist people in need.

You won't take any general education classes or extra electives. That's why these programs are much shorter than university degrees.

Coursework for a CSW diploma covers topics like:

  • Psychology and sociology
  • The warning signs and effects of addiction
  • Mental health disorders and therapies
  • Techniques for interviewing and counselling
  • Being a coach or mentor to a group
  • Locally available community and social services



So you want to become an addiction counsellor, but aren't sure which training route to follow? Here are a few questions that can help you decide.

What do employers look for?

Many addiction counsellor positions are open to candidates with either a diploma or degree. But it's wise to check out specific job postings that interest you to see what's required.

How much time do you have for training?

A social work degree gives you a broader education, but it takes at least four years.

A diploma program is more practical and runs for about two years. An accelerated CSW program can be completed in half that time. How quickly do you want to start your career?

What are the admission requirements?

University programs are competitive. You must have a minimum grade in specific high school courses to be accepted, in addition to letters of reference and other documentation.

Community support worker diploma programs typically require just a high school diploma. Some colleges also require an entrance test and a criminal record check.

What is your budget?

A social work degree costs a lot more than a CSW diploma. A degree is valuable and can open up more career options, including earning a master's in social work.

But for some students, a diploma is a more affordable option that leads more quickly to employment. It all comes down to your priorities and budget.



Interested in learning more about diploma programs in addiction and social service work?

Explore Herzing's CSW diploma program. This accelerated program takes no more than 12 months and includes an internship at a local community organization. Graduates are qualified for the following positions:

  • Child/Youth Worker
  • Addictions Counsellor
  • Family Service Worker
  • Crisis Intervention Worker
  • Women’s Shelter Worker/Supervisor
  • Aboriginal Outreach Worker
  • Community Development Worker
  • Mental Health Worker
  • Residential Support Worker

Training covers the effects of addiction and the counselling skills needed during the rehabilitation process.

Is this program right for you?

We recommend speaking with an admissions advisor. They can answer any questions you have about training, careers, financial aid, and how to apply.

Click below to explore the program and chat live with an advisor. We're here to help!

Explore the Online CSW Program

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