Can Counselors Still Help If They’ve Never Overcome Their Own Addictions?

Addiction is a very complicated and challenging condition to overcome. Most drug addicts agree that it’s virtually impossible for anybody to understand the experience of addiction unless they’ve been through it themselves. However, the majority of drug counselors lack this very experience.

This is easy enough to understand. Serious addictions take over an individual’s life. Even those who do manage to get sober often do so after losing many years, years that could have been dedicated to the study of counseling or psychology. Conversely, those privileged enough to afford and attend the necessary schooling to become a counselor don’t often struggle with addictions.

But when it comes to seeking treatment, how helpful can a San Diego detox counselor be if they can only understand the ailment they’re hoping to help with through textbooks and anecdotes?

Explaining Colors to a Blind Man: Trying to Explain Addiction to a  Sober Person

One of the issues that many drug users face is the struggle to explain their situation to other people. You can read as much as you want about addiction, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to fully understand the experience of addiction.

Addicted people often find themselves at a loss when people tell them that they “simply need more willpower” or “control over their emotions.” While these are certainly important aspects in recovery, they are far from the only issues.

New science is revealing that addiction causes serious, long-term changes in the brain that lead to the creation of new pathways that are not present in people without addictions. These pathways can work as a molecular switch for addiction, leading to habitual behavior and compulsions that are much more different and extreme than those faced by non-addicted individuals.

This lack of understanding can be a serious barrier for an addict trying to explain their situation. People simply cannot fully sympathize with a situation that they don’t understand.

So, Should I See a Counsellor Who Hasn’t Experienced Addiction Themselves?

Just because an addiction counselor hasn’t struggled with an addiction doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful. If a counselor bases their practice on sympathy and compassion, then they’ll do all that they can to help you get through your problem.

They might not have lived in the exact same shoes as you, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful. Counselors understand the pharmacology and neurochemistry of addiction. Even if they might not know what craving feels like firsthand, they still can have a lot to offer.

That said, you may prefer to seek a San Diego detox counselor who has battled their own addictions and then strove to become counselors themselves. These folks are basically guaranteed to be highly empathetic and understanding in addition to having proper education as addiction counselors.

At the end of the day, you can’t generalize. The quality of the counselor will be determined by their intentions and character traits. Life experience can certainly be a benefit, but it’s not necessary.


Many drug users find that they struggle to relate to counselors who have not had an addiction themselves. While this might make it more difficult to relay their experience and feelings, many counselors can still provide benefits for recovering drug users!