Substance Abuse Counseling

Education and Careers

Substance abuse counselors support people with drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders and other behavioral issues. They are compassionate and patient problem-solvers, and there are many job opportunities and great projected job growth for this field.

What They Do

Substance abuse counselors diagnose and assess addiction problems, and treat clients in a variety of ways.

Because every patient is an individual and is struggling with addiction in different ways, substance abuse counselors customize treatment plans for each client. They may meet regularly with clients as they recover, or work intensely with individuals in crisis.

They teach clients how to alter their attitudes and false beliefs, and develop strategies to overcome denial and rationalization in the hope of achieving full recovery. Because clients are susceptible to relapse, many substance abuse counselors work with clients on an on-going basis. There's certainly a lot of job security in this field.

Skills You'll Need

Learn which personality traits and professional skills you’ll need to be a successful substance abuse counselor.

You should have…

  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Critical thinking abilities
  • High tolerance for stress
  • Integrity
  • Good communication skills
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to maintain composure

Find the Right School For You

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Licensing and certification guidelines for substance abuse counselors vary by state. Make sure to check the guidelines in your state before you start your studies.

  • 1

    Entry-Level Certification

    Some states require only a high school diploma, enrollment in a bachelor's degree, and proof of employment.

  • 2

    Get a Bachelor's Degree

    An undergraduate degree will teach you about addiction and treatment methods.

  • 3

    Get Clinical Experience

    Most states require that you get two years of clinical experience before they will grant you a license.

  • 4

    Pass the Substance Abuse Exam

    States also require you to take and pass one of two exams: the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors or the International Certification Reciprocity Consortium level II exam.

  • 5

    Supervised Work Experience

    Before you can become a substance abuse counselor, you must have 2,000 hours of supervised work experience. The actual number of hours depends on your state's requirements.

  • 6

    Apply for Licensure in Your State

    In order to administer substance abuse treatment, you must be licensed by your state board. Since every state is unique, check your state regulatory board for specific requirements.

Salary Comparison

While substance abuse counselors don’t get rich, they can make a good living. But salaries vary greatly based on location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

Compare various counselor and therapist salaries below:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Growth

Employment of substance abuse counselors is expected to grow an amazing 31 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is much higher than the 11 percent growth predicted for all professions combined. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

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