Drug Counselor: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a drug counselor. Learn about licensure, job outlook, salary, and education requirements 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 Drug Counselor?

Drug counselors work with individuals and groups of people who are coping with addiction to drugs or alcohol. They work with patients to bring understanding of the nature of the addiction, to determine unhealthy situations, and to develop strategies to avoid engaging in addictive behaviors. Counselors need to maintain a high level of confidentiality and document treatment plans and patient progress.

Education Required On-the-job training and a high school diploma is the typical minimum; master's degree required for licensure
Education Field of Study Counseling
Key Skills Compassion, listening, problem-solving, communication
Licensure/Certification Counselors in private practice must be licensed; certification may be required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 22% (for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)*
Median Salary (2016) $37,712 (for all substance abuse counselors)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Would My Job Duties be as a Drug Counselor?

Drug counselors, also called substance abuse counselors, help those individuals who are addicted to harmful substances such as drugs and alcohol. As a drug counselor, you might counsel addicts for many years, helping them through life's struggles while they battle their addictions. Many times, those suffering from substance addiction need help organizing several aspects of their life and do not know from whom to seek help. You might spend a great deal of their time referring your clients to other government and law agencies and health service professionals. Some of the people you might work with include psychologists, lawyers, social workers, and other counselors.

What Education Do I Need?

The education required to become a drug counselor varies widely, oftentimes based on whether or not licensure or certification is needed for your particular position. Drug counselors in positions that don't require licensure can find jobs with only a high school diploma and on-the-job training. For other positions, especially in private practices, it's recommended that you confirm with the state in which you would like to work to see what steps you need to take in order to gain licensure. Typically, you will need to complete at least a bachelor's degree in counseling or a similar field as well as two years of relevant experience, either as a counselor or as a former addict.

You can also enroll in an accredited master's degree program in substance abuse counseling. Such programs are designed to provide you with the skills and training necessary to help treat addiction and prevent further drug abuse. They also often include a supervised internship experience that can provide you with the requirements necessary to gain licensure in your state.

What Kind of Background and Experience Do I Need to be a Drug Counselor?

In order to be a drug counselor, you need compassion and a desire to help people who are struggling with addiction. Many people who choose this career have deep personal and religious beliefs about helping people, which allow them to help others get through trying times. In addition to referrals, a majority of a drug counselor's work is spent on crisis prevention. You may see your clients go through terrible life problems, including homelessness, disease and even death. As a drug counselor, you need to be prepared to handle these types of stressors and control your emotions in order to perform the job.

What Salary Might I Expect?

According to PayScale.com in October 2016, the median income of drug counselors was $37,712. Salaries can vary depending on your experience, your location in the country, and the type of industry in which you work.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Mental health counselors and rehabilitation counselors also perform duties that are similar to the work of drug counselors. These counselors work with patients to help determine root causes, and they develop treatment plans to help patients address harmful issues. Mental health counselors may focus on working with people who are trying to manage mental health struggles, while rehabilitation counselors may work with individuals with a disability so that they can learn to function independently. Like drug counselors, the ultimate goal of mental health counselors and rehabilitation therapists is to help patients live a healthy life. Mental health counselors and rehabilitation therapists need a master's degree in a relevant field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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