Can Substance Abuse Counseling Help Me?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated June 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Please note that “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” are now referred to as “substance use disorder” per the DSM-5.

If you find that you have trouble controlling your use of certain substances, then you may have a substance use disorder. Substance use disorder (previously known as substance abuse) is a serious disorder that can affect your life and that of your family members in negative ways. That's why it can be important for you to seek treatment and get the professional help you deserve in a timely manner. 

What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder (previously known as substance abuse) can be characterized by a dependence on any addictive substance. This might include illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol use. 

According to the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, such substance use results in “clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.” Substance use counselors work to develop counseling plans based on each individual’s experience with substance use behavioral disorder (formerly substance abuse behavioral disorder or simply substance abuse disorder). It can be helpful to find a substance use counselor whom you click with and whom you feel understands your experiences with substance use to improve addiction counseling outcomes. 

Note that these counselors are sometimes referred to as substance abuse counselors, but phrases like “substance abuse,” “substance abuse counselor,” "substance abuse counseling", “drug and alcohol abuse,” and “drug abuse” are not used by today’s mental health centers.

Identifying substance use disorder

It can be difficult to admit that you are experiencing substance use disorder. Few people want to think of themselves as having an addiction, mainly because of the bleak picture that mainstream media often paints of people who live with addictive, substance use disorders. In this light, it may seem as if people with substance use are doomed to a life of failure. Of course, this doesn’t have to be the case.

If substance use has cost you friends or loved ones, then there may be a problem with substances that needs to be addressed. Moreover, if you find yourself having a hard time getting through the day without alcohol, drugs, or medication, then you likely have a substance use disorder. The exception may be if you have a diagnosed condition that requires the use of medication. Still, it can be possible to misuse prescription medication as well, so if you are using the prescription medication in any way other than prescribed by a doctor, this can also be a sign of a possible substance use disorder.

Millions of Americans live with substance use disorder

Types of substance abuse counselors

Trained counselors with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in mental health are available to help with substance use concerns. You can ask your substance use counselor (previously referred to as a substance abuse counselor) where they’re licensed and what level of education they’ve received regarding substance use during your first session. This can help the counselor understand what your priorities are while educating yourself about their experience. 

One type of counseling for substance use disorder may be individual counseling. With this type of counseling, you and your counselor are usually the only people present during sessions. This can allow you to be the sole focus of the counseling session and interact with the counselor the way you see fit.

Group therapy may be another option when it comes to getting treatment. With this type of therapy, you may be in a setting with other people who are also experiencing problems with use. This type of therapy can enable you to get and give support; each person in the group typically understands what the others in the group are going through and how the recovery process feels. 

The process of quitting: How substance use counselors help

Quitting any kind of addictive substance can be difficult. In some cases, it can also be a dangerous process. Perhaps the most important thing to do is to speak with your doctor about your plan to quit before you implement it. A medical professional may prescribe you medications that can help with the detoxification process.

Stopping anything that you may be addicted to without supervision or a gradual weaning process (which can be impossible to do properly in a home setting) can be dangerous because it may cause a shock to your system. With medical intervention, you can get through the detox process in an easier and safer way.

A substance use counselor (previously called a substance abuse counselor) can work with you to better identify and address the cognitive and emotional impacts of a substance addiction. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people on a range of issues, such as those relating to alcoholism, addictions, or depression.” 

A counselor may help you understand how substance use disorder and mental health challenges are connected. Mental health counselors specializing in alcohol and drug dependency can also address the symptoms of a comorbidity while working to alleviate the effects of the addiction. For example, mental health counselors can help clients understand how depressive feelings and thoughts may contribute to substance use.

Counseling can help

Seeking counseling can be another important step to resolving these issues. Whether you decide to proceed with individual counseling or group counseling, there can be many benefits of having a professional to talk to about what you're experiencing and how it's affecting you. 

When the detox process is over, you'll have stopped using the substance entirely. The focus then redirects to helping you stay on that path. If you've gone through the process of detoxification and quitting, it can be vital that you avoid drinking or consuming any kind of substances. It is typically recommended that recreational use of drugs and alcohol be avoided. This can be difficult for someone who started out using alcohol or drugs as a social aid since it may mean finding new ways to interact with friends and peers. Still, ensuring you stay away from substances can be crucial to your overall health.


Why you should quit

Quitting an addictive substance can be a challenge. You may ask yourself why you would even want to quit in the first place. Still, there may be many compelling reasons to quit using substances.  For example, substance use may have affected your relationships with friends and family, and it might have changed the way that you perform at your job as well. 

Misusing substances can increase your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, psychosis, and even death. In some cases, these negative effects can occur after just a single use. If you continue to use, you may increase your risk for conditions like heart disease, lung disease, cancer, mental illness, hepatitis, and more. Moreover, using needles may increase your risk for diseases like HIV and AIDS. Substance use disorder and mental health conditions like depression and bipolar disorder commonly co-occur. 

Getting online treatment and counseling

If you're looking for a way to get the substance use disorder counseling that you deserve, you can start online. Online counseling can give you a better chance for success in some respects because it may keep you more comfortable than you would be in a typical counselor's office. If you’re like many people, you may not want to sit on an uncomfortable couch and talk about your feelings, for instance. You could also be experiencing feelings of shame and embarrassment regarding substance use. With online counseling, you can conduct the session in a place where you feel more at ease, both physically and emotionally.

With online counseling, you may not have to compromise the quality of your care, either. Researchers have found that digital counseling can be effective in treating substance use disorder, particularly disordered alcohol use. 

Millions of Americans live with substance use disorder


If you find that you’ve become reliant on certain substances or experience difficulty controlling your use, you may be living with a substance use disorder. It can be crucial to seek professional help in order to overcome addiction before it harms various aspects of your life. The help you deserve may be available in person or online. Reach out to BetterHelp today and get matched with an online counselor. 
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