Careers in Drug Rehabilitation

If you'd like to help people live clean, sober lives, there are many career opportunities in the field of drug rehabilitation. For example, you could work as a substance abuse counselor, facilities director or nurse aide. Read on to learn about these careers, their educational requirements and their economic outlooks. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of Drug Rehabilitation Work

If you're pursuing a career in drug rehabilitation, you'll have several jobs to choose from. You'll likely work in a drug rehabilitation center or program, where you may choose to work as a counselor or therapist, a director or a nursing assistant. Different drug rehabilitation programs have different methods of treating patients, so your job title and specific duties would vary by setting. Regardless of your facility's specific treatment philosophy, your overall goal will be to treat patients for drug addiction and help them learn to live sober lives.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Work Environment Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers
Key Skills Communication, compassion, listening, and patience
Similar Occupations Psychologists, social and human services assistants, and social workers
On-the-Job Training None (Rehabilitation counselors)

Source. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Substance Abuse Counselors

As a substance abuse counselor or therapist, you'll work with patients to identify the roots of their addictions and establish individual recovery programs. You may work with your patients individually, or you may treat them in groups. You may also work with patients' families to help them deal with their emotions about addiction. While many drug rehabilitation counselors work in treatment centers, you may choose to work in a prison, where you'll specialize in treating inmates.

Depending on your workplace, you may be assigned to a certain counseling role. For example, if you work as an intake counselor, you'll be responsible for assessing patients' conditions, answering their questions and checking patients' insurance coverage. You'll decide whether patients would benefit from inpatient or outpatient treatment and make a recommendation based on the information you collect. Your duties may include:

  • Creating individualized patient treatment plans
  • Maintaining patients' charts and records
  • Educating patients about available community opportunities
  • Participating in staff meetings to discuss patients' recovery

Education and Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while counselor requirements vary by state, you'll generally need to have earned at least a master's degree in counseling, completed a certain number of supervised clinical hours and passed a licensing exam ( You may also need to complete continuing education credits to maintain your license.

Job Outlook

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will experience a 22% increase in employment opportunities between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average, according to the BLS. Having the proper education for the job should result in good job prospects, especially because there is also a lot of turnover in the field.


In May 2014, the BLS reported that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a median annual wage of $39,270. In addition, salaries ranged from $25,310 or less for the bottom 10% of counselors to $61,420 or more for the top 10% of counselors. Outpatient care centers were the top employer and offered a mean wage of $40,800, while colleges, professional schools and universities offered the highest average wage of $53,110.

Facility Directors

If you decide to work as a counselor, you may eventually choose to apply for a facility director position. Your duties may include:

  • Supervising therapists
  • Researching new developments in addiction therapy
  • Training new therapists
  • Creating facility policies and procedures
  • Providing patient care
  • Overseeing the facility's budget and public relations

Education and Training

While there are no official minimum education or experience requirements to be a medical facility director, most medical director positions on the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) request applicants with a graduate degree, licensure and at least 3-5 years of therapy and supervisory experience ( In addition, the BLS notes that medical and health services managers in general usually need at least a bachelor's degree and some experience.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, medical and health services managers will experience employment growth of 17% over the 2014-202 decade. This growth is much faster than average, and you might have more job opportunities working for facilities that treat the elderly.


As of May 2014, the median salary of a medical and health services manager was $92,810. While the top 10% made $161,150 or more, the bottom 10% made $55,890 or less. Managers of psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earned an average wage of $96,830, while managers of outpatient care centers earned $97,400 on average. General hospitals paid these professionals an average salary of $110,840.

Nurse Aides

Some inpatient residential drug treatment programs hire nurse aides to work alongside the counselors. If you work as a nurse aide, you'll provide for your patients' day-to-day needs. While therapists and counselors keep track of patients' mental and emotional progress, you'll keep track of patients' physical well-being. You'll help patients who aren't able to physically function on their own.

Education and Training

The BLS reports that you'll most likely learn your skills through on-the-job training rather than through a formal academic program. Although you won't need a degree to become a nurse aide, you will need to become licensed. If you pass a licensure exam and complete a training course that's been approved by your state, you'll become a certified nurse assistant (CNA).

Job Outlook

Job opportunities for nursing assistants, including orderlies, are expected to increase 17% over the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS, which is faster than average. Turnover will also result in job opportunities. You will have the best prospects if you pass your state's licensing exam and pursue formal education.


According to April 2014 salary data from the BLS, the median wage of a nurse aide was $25,100, with most earning between $18,790 and $36,170 a year. Entry-level professionals earned a median wage of $21,000. also reported that certified nurse aides earned a median wage of $23,838, with most making between $16,917 and $33,475.

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