Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC). Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor?

A certified substance abuse counselor is a professional counselor who has fulfilled the requirements for certification in the substance abuse counseling field. They work with individuals who struggle with addiction to substances such as alcohol or drugs. They may meet with their patients individually or in group sessions. Their goal is to help their patients identify their addiction, recognize triggers that may cause them to relapse and help them develop effective strategies to refrain from addictive behaviors. The goal is to help their patients get clean and stay clean. They must maintain patient confidentiality and document their assessments of the patient's progress as they work with them. Additional career information is available in the table.

Degree RequiredVaries by state and position; minimum requirement may be a H.S. diploma or G.E.D., a bachelor's degree or a master's degree
Education Field of StudyCounseling
Substance abuse counseling
Key ResponsibilitiesEvaluate individuals for substance abuse problems
Provide individual, group, and family treatment for substance abuse problems
Collaborate with other healthcare professionals regarding client treatment
Compile evaluation and treatment progress records as required
Licensure/CertificationRequired for those working in private practice; otherwise, requirements vary by state; CSAC credential available in some states
Job Growth (2014-2024)22% for all substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors*
Mean Salary (2015)$42,490 for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Become a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC)?

Some states offer the Certified Substance Abuse Counselor credential, but it's not to be confused with the Clinical Addictions Specialist designation. Different states have different requirements for gaining the CSAC certification. For example, to earn the credential in North Carolina, you must complete 6,000 hours of supervised paid or volunteer experience as a substance abuse counselor, according to the North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Certification Board (www.nattc.org). You must also meet education requirements that include the completion of 270 clock hours of board-approved training. You additionally need to submit evaluation forms from three references, pay a fee and pass an exam.

The Hawaii State Department of Health's CSAC requirements are similar but allow you to substitute your degree in a human services field for work experience hours (www.hawaii.gov). Check with your desired state of practice's agency or board to determine if the CSAC designation is offered and what the state's requirements are.

What About Degree Programs, Licensure & National Certification?

Certificate programs and associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs are available from postsecondary institutions across the nation to help you meet education requirements for CSAC certification. The level of degree you need depends on your state's requirements. Some states also require some types of counselors to obtain licensure, which often requires a master's degree; however, in some states, a high school diploma and certification are all you need to work as a substance abuse counselor.

If your state doesn't offer CSAC certification, it may offer a similar credential under a different name. National certification options are also available from several certifying bodies. For example, the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors offers the Substance Abuse Professional, National Certified Addiction Counselor-Level I, National Certified Addiction Counselor-Level II and Master Addiction Counselor designations. The International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium also provides several credentials for addiction professionals, including Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

What Does the Job Entail?

Regardless of whether your state requires licensure, certification or both, your job as a substance abuse counselor involves helping people overcome their addiction issues. You use your training to help individuals replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones by providing coping strategies and personalized recovery plans. This process can include both individual and group counseling sessions. You might also counsel the family members of those with substance abuse issues and lead outreach or education programs in your community.

How Much Might I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors were expected to increase by 22% from 2014 to 2024, which was a much faster growth rate than the national average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). This growth could be due to an increase in the number of drug offenders being sentenced to mandatory treatment programs instead of jail. Also, as addiction awareness grows, more people may seek treatment for substance abuse problems. As a CSAC, you might expect to earn a salary of around $42,490, which was the mean annual salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors as reported by the BLS in May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Substance abuse counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists and behavioral disorder counselors all perform the same basic tasks. They meet with patients who are struggling with issues that are affecting their life in some way. They help their patients identify the issues and determine how to resolve or manage those issues so that their life can be more satisfying. They are all responsible for assessing patients, developing a treatment plan, maintaining patient confidentiality and documenting the patient's progress. The main difference between these professionals is the type of issues their patients may be facing. Social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree in social work. Marriage and family therapists need a master's degree in a relevant discipline and behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree. Individuals should check state requirements regarding licensure.

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