Do you want to be a drug counselor?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

The need for qualified drug counselors continues to grow.

Pill for that?

Drug Counseling?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

The growing opioid epidemic has highlighted the need for more drug treatment. So has the use of other drugs, methamphetamine, the so-called bath salts, and a whole host of new substances which continue to grow. The need for treatment among the older generation is at an all-time high as many baby boomers have continued to use their drug of choice into their retirement years. While the increasing problem with hard drugs gets a lot of media attention, we can’t forget that the two legal drugs, nicotine and alcohol remain huge killers. In medical settings, most of the patients have illnesses caused by or made worse by the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs.

There are several reasons why you might want to become a drug and alcohol counselor. For over ten years now I’ve taught classes in counseling those with substance use disorders. This week another class is starting. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to talk to you about some of the things drug counselors learn. Let’s begin today with reasons you might want to become a drug counselor and why your reason might help or hinder you in becoming a good drug counselor.

The field of drug counseling continues to evolve. The laws and regulations vary from place to place, and so do the names given to drug counselors. Counselors in this field are sometimes called substance abuse counselors, substance use disorder counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, or AOD counselors which stands for alcohol and other drug counselors.

This field used to separate alcoholics from drug addicts and provide two different kinds of treatment. Today it’s rare to find treatment programs where the two issues are disconnected. People with alcohol only problems usually end up in a drunk driver program or self-help groups such as AA. People with drug problems go to drug programs even though they often also have alcohol problems.

If you are in recovery, you may want to become a drug counselor.

Today’s substance abuse counseling programs mainly grew out of the alumni from drug programs and people who had attended 12 step groups. If you’re in recovery yourself, you may want to give back. The good part about this is that you probably have a lot of knowledge about the process of addiction. Many of my students are former alcoholics or addicts now in recovery. I tell the class, only half-joking, that many of you have done “extensive field research” on drugs and alcohol.

If you’re a recovering person, you probably know a lot about the 12 steps. While a lot of research is being done about what works and doesn’t work in the substance use disorder field, working the 12 steps and attending self-help groups continues to be a significant component of most recovery programs.

The downside to being a recovering person is that you may struggle with the academic, professional part of the curriculum. People in recovery who rushed too rapidly into becoming drug counselors put themselves at risk for relapse. For recovering person to work in the treatment field, they need to not only know the disease of addiction, but they also need to understand the process of recovery. If you’re in early recovery give yourself plenty of time to get used to your new sobriety before beginning to work in the field, otherwise you can put yourself at risk of relapse.

You may have had a family member or friend with an addiction problem.

Many people come into the field because they lost a family member or close friend to the diseases of addiction. I’ve seen some very effective counselors who have not themselves been addicts but have grown up in a home with an addicted parent or partner. If you’ve lost a child to addiction, death, or incarceration, that can be an exceptionally strong motivation to work in the field.

The caution for family members is like the one for recovering people. Make sure you are fully recovered from your experiences of living with an addicted person. Don’t expect to work out your own problems by working with addicts. Living with an addicted person can cause severe emotional trauma. You need to be fully recovered from that trauma if you plan to do this kind of work. A number of my drug counseling students were family members of addicts. They pretty much all told me they benefited by taking the classes. Many however decided they needed to work on themselves rather than trying to fix themselves by fixing addicts.

You have discovered a lot of the people you work with have drug problems.

No matter where you work there’s a strong possibility that many of the people you see each day have a drug problem. One survey estimated that 80% of the people in prison were drunk or high in the 24 hours before the committed the crime that led to their incarceration. VA Hospital estimated half of their hospital beds on the results of patients whose condition was caused by or made worse by alcohol. People who work in the criminal justice system or the medical field need to know about addiction and recovery.

People who work in the welfare system need to be knowledgeable about drugs, alcohol, addiction, and recovery. Many people who are unemployed have substance use issues. Among the homeless population, one drug is almost universal. It’s probably not the drug you are thinking of, the drug of choice among the homeless – is tobacco.

If you’re working in education, you need to know about drugs, alcohol and the problems they’re creating for your students. Surveys tell us that at the college level F students consume twice as much alcohol as A students. Many elementary school students begin experimenting with drugs and drinking around the third or fourth grade. They start by smoking their parent’s cigarettes or drinking their alcohol. With the shift towards legalized marijuana more and more elementary and middle school students are using marijuana. If you work with kids in any capacity part of what you should be doing will be drug prevention and early interventions.

You work in mental health and clients want to talk to you about drug problems.

There’s a substantial overlap between mental health issues and substance use disorders. If you work in a program or facility that treats mental health problems you’re seeing people with substance use disorders whether you know it or not. Please don’t say “I don’t want to work with those people.” You are. If you give off the attitude you don’t want to talk to them about their drug problems, their sex problems, or their gambling problems; they just won’t tell you the truth about those issues.

Roughly half the people with a diagnosed mental illness, abuse substances and many go on to develop substance use disorders. About 60% of the people with substance use disorders also have a mental illness. The area of working with clients with both problems, now called “dual diagnosis” used to be called “co-occurring disorders.” The most effective treatment for people with both disorders is to get them both treated at the same time and either at the same place or with two different providers who work together to coordinate care.

You would like to help “those people.”

If your motivation to become a drug counselor is because you feel sorry for people with a history of substance use disorder, I’m going to suggest, please don’t become a drug counselor. You’re likely to come across as feeling superior and looking down on them. If you want to be helpful, work with them on their other needs, housing, meals, job training, or basic literacy. Leave the drug counseling to people who will put in the time to develop the needed skills.

Stay tuned for more posts on what drug counselors do on the job and how someone would go about becoming a drug counselor. If you have questions as I move through this series of posts, please leave a comment or use the “contact me” form. I will get back to you just as quickly as my schedule allows.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and many other online stores.

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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What is a Standard Drink?

By David Joel Miller.

The taste may change but the alcohol stays the same.

Alcohol

What is a standard drink?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Only one kind of alcohol, ethanol, is drinkable. Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is made from fermenting a liquid made from fruit, grains or similar vegetative products. Sometimes this chemical is called grain alcohol. While chemically similar, all the types of alcohol other than Ethanol can do significant harm, including cause blindness or death, when consumed. From here on, when I say alcohol, I am talking exclusively about the ethanol type.

The folk-lore of drinking contains lots of myths about what to drink and how to drink it. People may think that if they only drink beer or wine then they can’t become alcoholics. Some people give up “the hard stuff” thinking this will prevent them having a problem with alcohol. Most of this belief that one alcoholic drink is better or worse than another is based on misconceptions about the content of alcoholic drinks.

No matter what we call an alcoholic beverage, what it is made from or what flavorings and additives are included, the pure alcohol part of alcoholic beverages is the same. All drinkable alcoholic beverages contain ethanol. Ethanol is the component that gets you drunk and withdrawal from ethanol, no matter the source, is what causes a hangover.

In order to compare the amount of pure alcohol contained in various beverages we use a concept called a “standard drink.” That standard drink is the amount of a beverage that contains one-half an ounce of pure ethanol.

In some places, alcohol content is calculated by weight and in other places, it is calculated by volume. Depending on whether the alcohol is measured by weight or by volume and depending on who does the measuring we can get slightly different numbers here. Either way, the results of alcohol are pretty much the same.

Beer has the smallest percentage of alcohol.

Beers can vary between three and seven percent alcohol. Most of the major commercial beers in the U. S. are at the low end, close to 3 % and a twelve ounce beer is considered a standard drink. Many people believe that because beer has a lower alcohol content it is safer and less likely to lead to problems. Unfortunately, that turns out to not be true. Because beer has a lower alcohol content per standard drink most people just drink more volume of beer than they would if drinking another alcoholic beverage. More than half the pure alcohol consumed every year here in the U. S. comes from beer.

Wine is a little stronger and can vary more.

Typical wines come in at eight to fourteen percent alcohol. The various textbooks I consulted gave between four and five oz. of wine as a standard drink. A wine can be fortified by adding alcohol distilled from some other alcoholic beverage. By fortifying a wine it can be pushed up to as much as twenty-two percent ethyl alcohol.

Spirits or Hard Liquor are the result of distillation.

As the fermentation progresses the alcohol begins to prevent the yeast from working so the process of fermentation stops. To get stronger alcoholic beverages some manipulation is required. If the liquid is heated, the alcohol evaporates faster than the water and other components. Catch this steam which is largely alcohol, condense it, and you get a beverage with a higher concentration of alcohol. We call this product with the concentrated levels of alcohol, spirits or hard liquor.

A standard drink containing spirits is about one “shot” of an 86 proof liquor. Proof numbers are twice the percentage numbers so this shot contains about half an ounce of pure alcohol.

Glass size and proof matter.

In trying to compare the amount of alcohol in one drink with another it is important to keep in mind that a glass of wine is defined as a 4 to 5-ounce glass size.  Pouring the wine into a 32-ounce tumbler does not mean a tumbler full is still one standard drink.

When the “proof” changes so should the size of the drink. Stronger spirits should be served in smaller glasses. In practice, people still pour more than one standard drink into their glass resulting in some drinks that contain way more than “one standard drink.” Even beer can become deceptively intoxicating if served in a mug that holds more than 12 ounces.

The problem with counting standard drinks.

The whole idea of standard drinks was to predict the effects of drinking a glass of a particular alcoholic beverage. In practice, most people are taking in more alcohol than they realize and the heavy or binge drinkers are drinking way more drinks than they planned.

If you are having a problem with controlling your drinking the answer is not in measuring standard drinks. If when you drink you consume more than intended or bad things happen to you, there is a good chance that you have an Alcohol Use Disorder. Stop trying to find a way to beat the game and drink more but not get drunk and get some help from a support group like A. A. or a professional counselor.

For more on this topic see:  Alcoholism       Drug Use, Abuse, and Addiction

Terms and their meaning can differ with the profession using them. The literature from the Rehab or AOD (Alcohol and Other Drug) field may be very different from that in the mental health field. There is still a large gap between recovery programs and AOD professionals and the terms and descriptions used in the DSM.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

See Recommended Books.     More “What is” posts will be found at “What is.”

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.