The primary goal of addiction counseling is to help the client achieve and maintain abstinence from addictive chemicals and behaviors. The secondary goal is to help the client recover from the damage the addiction has done to the client’s life. Addiction counseling works by first helping the client recognize the existence of a problem and the associated irrational thinking. The client is then encouraged to achieve and maintain abstinence while developing the necessary psychosocial skills and spiritual development.

Within this addiction counseling model, the agent of change is the client. The client must take responsibility for working a program of recovery. Recovery is ultimately the client’s task, but he or she is also encouraged to get a great deal of support from others, such as a sponsor, drug-free or recovering peers, and family members.

Addiction is thought to be a multi-determined, maladaptive way of coping with life problems that often becomes habitual and leads to a progressive worsening in life circumstance.

Participation in a self-help program is considered an extremely valuable aid to recovery. It helps recovering individuals develop a social support network outside of their treatment program, teaches the skills needed to recover, and helps clients take responsibility for their own recovery. In addition to encouraging clients to attend self-help groups frequently and to locate a sponsor, the addiction counselor educates clients about the 12-step program and incorporates many of its concepts into the content of the counseling. Breaking through denial; staying away from negative people, places, and things; taking a personal inventory; working on character defects; and spirituality in recovery are among the concepts discussed within the content of the counseling sessions.