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Recognizing the Most Common Addictions

Substance abuse counselors help clients find a path to sobriety.

Alcohol. Painkillers. Cocaine. With nearly 21 million Americans experiencing an addiction to these and other substances,1 the demand for addiction counselors and licensed clinical mental health counselors is growing.2

To provide the most effective substance abuse counseling, mental health professionals must stay current on the most commonly abused drugs. It’s good information for everyone to know, given the pervasiveness of substance abuse and its effect on families, too. Here are five of the leading causes of addiction:3


1. Alcohol

In the U.S., 18 million people have an alcohol use disorder; globally, 300 million people. Alcohol addiction can damage and sever interpersonal and professional relationships and cause liver disease and other life-threatening conditions. On a daily basis, alcohol poisoning kills an average of six Americans and alcohol-related car accidents kill 30 people. Seven percent of those experiencing alcohol addiction get treatment.1

2. Marijuana

Marijuana is the most-used psychotropic drug in the United States after alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.4 Approximately 30% of marijuana users have a marijuana use disorder.1 Concentrations of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, have strengthened over the years, increasing the possibility of a user developing a substance abuse disorder.5 Health issues can range from poor brain development, particularly when marijuana use started in adolescence,5 to breathing problems and increased heart rate.

3. Painkillers

There are approximately 2.1 million Americans with an addiction to opioids, the class of drugs that blocks pain and produces euphoria.1 Even relatively low dosages of drugs prescribed for pain management can be addictive, yet sales of opioid painkillers have soared by 300% since 1999.1 Approximately 130 Americans die each day from overdoses caused by painkillers obtained illegally or by prescription.1

4. Cocaine

While cocaine use was once declining, it is now “a resurgent threat,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.6 Approximately 5 million Americans use cocaine regularly, and people between the ages of 18 and 25 are the heaviest users.1 Cocaine is extremely addictive; for some people, it can happen after first-time use.1 Cocaine use can result in an overdose, heart attacks, seizures, strokes, and other life-threatening conditions.7

5. Heroin

Heroin is an extremely addictive, illegal opioid that carries a high risk of overdose.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says heroin use is on the rise among “men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.”8 Over 490,000 Americans age 12 and older use heroin regularly.1 In 2018, nearly five out of every 100,000 Americans, 15,000 in total, died of an overdose involving heroin.9

Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

You can dedicate your career to helping people recover from substance use disorders by earning an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Walden University. Walden offers a General Program and optional specializations, including Addiction Counseling, that let you match your career goals with your online degree.

Walden’s master’s program in clinical mental health counseling is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This assures that the quality and content of the master’s degree program meets stringent, consistent standards set by the counseling profession.

The Addiction Counseling specialization can help you hone your talent for addressing the complexities of addiction, to help clients on the path to recovery. You’ll learn about the types of addictive behaviors and the latest treatment and intervention models, all from faculty members who are prominent in their fields.

Walden’s clinical mental health counseling master’s program can prepare you for professional licensure and a variety of careers in counseling. As a licensed mental health counselor, you may choose to work with children, adults, or your community’s oldest residents, in settings that include community mental health centers, marriage and family clinics, inpatient or outpatient facilities, and public or private hospitals, to name just a few.

When you earn a counseling degree, you’re preparing to enter an expanding field of opportunities. Employment of substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, and mental health counselors is forecast to grow 25% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average for all occupations.2 Best of all, with your newly acquired skills and knowledge, and your talent and dedication, you’ll be ready to make a difference in the lives of children and adults in your community.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online degree program with an Addiction Counseling specialization. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,