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The 8 Tenets of Substance Abuse Counseling

Updated on June 14, 2024
Anne Carr profile image

Anne Marie ADHD is a writer, Youtuber, and artist with a passion for writing about ADHD and the impacts of adult ADHD on her own life.

The Power of Counseling

Substance abuse counselors help those seeking treatment for drug addiction and recovery.
Substance abuse counselors help those seeking treatment for drug addiction and recovery.


Substance abuse counseling is a growing field in today's society. As decades have passed, new research and methods have led to more effective programs. In this article we will discuss why these are important, as well as the 8 tenets of substance abuse counseling, which are the driving force behind recovery.

The Importance of Substance Abuse Counseling

Why is it important for counselors to know many different methods to substance abuse treatment? It is crucial for substance abuse counselors to study the systems, resources, and approaches utilized in drug treatment and recovery because first and foremost, counselors should see that there are many different ways of treatment available to clients, and addiction recovery is not a "one size fits all" approach.

Substance abuse counseling must be, "evidence based, respectful, and positive towards clients, complex, collaborative, contextual, multiculturally competent, oriented towards social justice, and built on a strong base of professional ethics" (8 Tenets of Substance Abuse Counseling). While early models of treatment focused primarily on abstinence and/or using medications to prevent withdrawal or relapse, modern substance abuse counseling understands the need for individualized treatment plans that incorporate a wide range of treatment strategies for each individual. What may work for one person might not work for another, and vice-versa. In addition, it has been shown that medication-based treatments alone (such as methadone treatment) are not as effective as they are in combination with counseling, behavioral therapy, and other resources. The importance lies in being able to help the client in the areas of their lives that they need particular assistance with. This may include behavioral therapies related to adopting healthy life skills and coping techniques, as well as being productive members in society. Substance abuse counselors assist clients with life skills necessary to function on their own once they have completed treatment. In addition, there is currently an ever-growing need for substance abuse counselors to keep up with trends, new research, and evidence related to the treatment of substance use disorders. It is crucial in this field of work that we stay up to date with methods of treatment in order to give patients the best available options for treatment.

The 8 Tenet of Substance Abuse Counseling

In the field of substance abuse counseling, there are 8 tenets that explain the modern view on substance abuse counseling, informing the education and practice of many counselors in today's society. According to the 8 tenets, substance abuse counseling should be: evidence based, respectful and positive towards clients, complex, collaborative, contextual, multiculturally competent, oriented towards social justice, and built on a strong base of professional ethics.

1. Evidence Based

First and foremost, all strategies used in counseling should be strategies that have been tested and have significant documented evidence explaining the effectiveness of such treatment. It is important to have research to back up your reasoning for trying different methods or approaches with a client. You can use this information to explain to the client why a particular strategy might be more beneficial to them than another.

2. Respectful and Positive Towards Clients

We must aim to uphold the highest levels of respect for the clients we work with. This means not being biased or judgmental, and going into the sessions with an open mind and consideration for the client's wants and needs. A lot of times, the focus will be on motivational interviewing and self-efficacy, supporting the involvement of the client directly in their treatment program. They take an active role with the counselor to come up with solutions and strategies they will both agree upon. This gives the client a sense of trust and comfort in working with you. As counselors, it is also our duty to help clients see what they are capable of, encouraging them to believe in themselves.

3. Complex

Substance abuse counseling is not a "one size fits all" approach. We must understand this and be mindful of the individual's needs during recovery. Each person is different, and things like environmental, socioeconomic, cultural, and other factors may influence the ways an individual may want to receive treatment. This is why we work with them to create the best plan for the client, focusing on the individual areas that the client wishes to improve upon.

4. Collaborative

The word collaborative simply means working together. This is not a place where the counselor has all the answers. Together, the client and counselor will develop a rapport with one another and see themselves as a team working together to reach a common goal, which is how all recovery treatment should be. Treatment should be an equal process between client and counselor. This fosters the self efficacy and independence a client needs in order to continue recovery.

5. Contextual

Simply put, contextual means we understand the social context of each individual's situation, and use that information to help form decisions in regard to treatment plans. If we misjudge a situation or come to it with bias not knowing the proper context, we will do more harm than good. That is why it is always crucial during the motivational interviewing phase to really listen carefully to all of the details that the client gives. As counselors, we need to have a whole picture understanding of the individual seeking help from us. Substance abuse is not only brought on by internal factors, but also the external social contexts and environments that brought the client into that lifestyle. As such, we should always listen carefully to our client's story.

Be Understanding and Open

Clients will come to you from all different walks of life, and all different backgrounds. This is why it is important for you as a counselor to be open minded and seek to understand from the client's perspective.
Clients will come to you from all different walks of life, and all different backgrounds. This is why it is important for you as a counselor to be open minded and seek to understand from the client's perspective.

6. Multiculturally Competent

As stated previously, bias and judgement are the worst things for recovery. As such, we must also be open to and maintain a multiculturally competent mindset. Many clients will be coming from all different walks of life and many different places. The multicultural counseling competencies include the counselor's awareness of their own assumptions, etc, the worldview of the client and the counselor's ability to understand that, and from that information, the counselor's ability to be able to inform and recommend appropriate treatments and interventions for the client. With all of these things in mind, we can ensure effect, personalized, and unbiased treatment for all clients.

7. Oriented Towards Social Justice

As substance abuse counselors, our focus should also continue to be on social justice. The war on drugs, politics, and many other factors have impacted the treatment systems and where we are today in the field. Having an awareness of this and also some of the frustrating things about the system can help guide treatment plans more effectively. For instance, think about the mandatory minimum sentences that many people have received due to drug crimes. There is a public debate on the effectiveness on this type of "treatment" for individuals. As counselors, we know that this is not an effective strategy for drug treatment. Keeping that in mind, we can make informed decisions about what we will need to do for treatment, and how society and social issues might impact the treatment plan. Many clients also feel that they might have been judged or mistreated in the system in the past. It is our job as counselors to help advocate for social justice and change, and build a powerful connection and trust with our clients.

Encourage and Be Supportive

Always remember to be encouraging, supportive, and open with clients.
Always remember to be encouraging, supportive, and open with clients.

8. Built on a Strong Base of Professional Ethics

Lastly, ethics is paramount in forming effective therapy plans and treatment strategies for substance abuse counseling. Counselors must maintain a professional attitude at all times. Counselors should protect and respect doctor patient confidentiality as well as having an understanding of all codes of ethics, rules, and regulations within the workplace. Counselors should always seek to maintain professionalism and respect in everything they do.


The 8 Tenets of Substance Abuse Counseling provide the framework for effective counseling and treatment strategies. These strategies are important because they help guide counselors and clients to the correct individualized treatment plans that will work for them. Lastly, the counselor should always seek to protect the privacy, expectations, and culture of the client. This information is utilized in therapy to help both counselor and client build an effective relationship and find a treatment plan that works best for each individual, rather than sticking to a "one size fits all" plan. Substance abuse counseling is a very demanding job, but the positive changes that counselors can make in client's lives is the driving passion behind this field. If you are interested in this field of study, I encourage you to do more research about this. There is a much larger need for this career nowadays than ever before.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2024 Anne Marie Carr


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