7 Facts About Substance Abuse Counselor Education and Careers

Can I go to school online?


There are several nonprofit and for-profit schools that offer substance abuse counseling degree programs online.

Many of these schools offer certificate programs and associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, providing options to students of all education levels.

What careers can I pursue with a substance abuse counseling degree?

Substance abuse counselors work in a variety of settings from hospitals to halfway houses. Working in substance abuse counseling affords you the opportunity to work with certain populations, such as college students or veterans.

While your primary role will be to counsel those suffering from behavioral disorders, you might also visit schools and talk about preventative measures.

Depending on your degree level and licensure, you may have the option to work in a private practice or partner with other medical professionals, including medical doctors and psychiatrists.

How do I apply for financial aid?

Government financial aid is the most common. To be considered, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and ensure your school is accredited. Federal aid isn’t your only option and other types of assistance include scholarships, grants, private loans and PLUS loans exist.

What type of accreditation should I look for in a psychology program?

Counseling programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Higher Learning Commission, which is divided into six regional associations. Attending an accredited school will allow you to apply for both financial aid and professional certification.

What steps do I need to take to become licensed?

If you plan to enter private practice, all states will require a master’s degree with 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You’ll also need to pass an exam to earn your license. In some states, certification from the National board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) is also required. If you don’t plan to run your own practice, check with your state board of psychology on licensing specifications.

What continuing education requirements should I expect throughout my career?

Counselors in all sub-specialties are typically required to complete continuing education hours prior to a license renewal. Each state has different criteria so it’s best to check with your state board of psychology for the most up-to-date information on substance abuse counselor CE requirements.

Is it better to work for myself in private practice or an institution within the substance abuse counseling field?

A number of factors influence whether a substance abuse counselor should work in private practice or for an institution. If you’re new to the field and lack a large patient base, you’ll have to work hard at marketing yourself and getting referrals. While it doesn’t offer the same flexibility as private practice, working at an institution allows you to gain valuable knowledge from colleagues and often receive employer-paid benefits.


Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer substance abuse counseling degree programs.