Substance Abuse Counseling Salary: What You’ll Earn

Substance abuse counselors are in demand. Find the latest information on what you can earn in this rewarding career.


Median Annual Salary

A career in substance abuse counseling can yield a decent salary and the help you provide others can be priceless, making this a rewarding career for many people. In your job search, consider a variety of different facilities since pay can differ between employers.

According to The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS)  current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary is $41,070 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

What is my earning potential?

While not every state requires a master’s degree to work as a substance abuse counselor, you may benefit from having one since it can often boost your earning potential.

The advanced degree allows you to offer more services to clients so employers may be more apt to pay a higher salary. Secondly, a master’s degree (along with other requirements) opens the door to working in private practice.

Working independently can provide a healthy salary if you have a large enough client base. If you partner with other mental health professionals or doctors, they may recommend you as a preferred provider to their patients.

Your earning potential will also be affected by where you work. Certain facilities that employ substance abuse counselors tend to pay better in certain areas of the country.

And here’s something to work toward: The top 10 percent of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earn more than $65,080.

How do substance abuse counselor salaries compare?

Psychology CareerMedian Annual Salary*
Social Worker$46,890
Rehabilitation Counselor$34,670
School and Career Counselor$54,560
Marriage and Family Therapist$49,170

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2018-19 Edition, Social WorkersRehabilitation CounselorsSchool and Career CounselorsMental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists.

*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.

Is there demand for this career?

For aspiring substance abuse counselors, now is a great time to earn your degree and enter the field. Jobs are expected to grow as more people seek help for their addictions and other behavioral issues. In addition to this, court-ordered therapy is becoming more common in conjunction with criminal convictions, creating jobs in jails and halfway houses.

Because the job can be tremendously demanding and often stressful, turnover can be high making room for new substance abuse counselors looking to make an impact and help others.

What is the job growth for this field?

Employment of substance abuse counselors is predicted to grow 20 percent through 2026. By comparison, all other occupations in the U.S. are expected to grow 7 percent through 2026.

Certain facilities that employ substance abuse counselors are expected to have very high growth through the remainder of the decade.

High schools and colleges also employ substance abuse counselors to not only help students recover, but also to discuss preventative measures and proven coping skills.

How much competition will I face for a job?

Even with a plentiful supply of jobs, employers will always look for the best and brightest counselors, so you want to ensure you’ve earned the appropriate degree and gained experience where you can.

Substance abuse counselors with specialized training are more apt to stand out in a pile of resumes compared to someone with a master’s degree in general counseling.

If you’re applying for a job in a very specific setting, you’ll find that competition may be less fierce if you’ve been specially trained to handle a certain demographic.

Another way to edge out competition is to become certified. This shows you’ve earned a master’s degree and passed a rigorous exam recognized in the field.

What kind of institutions hire substance abuse counselors?

A relatively long list of institutions hire substance abuse counselors with most looking for full-time employees. Substance abuse counselors may find they have to work nights or weekends to accommodate clients’ schedules. They should also be flexible in case a client is in crisis day or night.

Facilities include:

  • Hospitals
  • Homeless shelters
  • Jails and prisons
  • Social welfare agencies
  • Residential and outpatient therapy
  • Halfway houses
  • State and local departments
  • Drug and alcohol treatment centers
  • High schools
  • Colleges

How do I advance in my substance abuse counseling career?

Earning your master’s degree in substance abuse counseling is one of the best ways to advance your career.

Once you’ve earned the degree and worked for two years in a supervised clinical setting, you’ll be eligible to take the exam to become certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This can make you more marketable to potential employers and gives you the credentials that exemplify your skills and education.

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