Drug and Alcohol Counselor Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for drug and alcohol counselors. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Drug and Alcohol Counselor?

Drug and alcohol counselors, also known as substance abuse counselors, offer ongoing support and resources to people struggling with addictions to drugs or alcohol. They work in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, to support patients' efforts to stop using or cut back on using one or more addictive substances. Drug and alcohol counselors may deal with patients on an individual basis or offer group therapy sessions to support people through their addictions. They need to have extremely good communication and listening skills, and also need to have acquired the relevant licensure in order to work. See the table below for more information:

Degree RequiredVaries by state
Some states require a H.S. degree or G.E.D, others require a bachelor's or master's degree
Education Field of StudyPsychology
Counseling
Chemical dependency
Human services
Key ResponsibilitiesEvaluate individuals for chemical dependency problems
Provide individual, group and/or family counseling to addicted individuals
Maintain records as required
Implements therapeutic treatment plans
Licensure/CertificationMost states require licensure or certification, though education and training requirements vary
Job Growth (2014-2024)22%*
Mean Salary (2015)$42,920*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor?

In this position, you would develop recovery regimens specific to your clients' cases and work with your clients' family members or loved ones to help them cope. You would need to build your patients' trust and confidence while adhering to a strict code of ethics. As a drug and alcohol counselor, you might work with patients on a daily, weekly or drop-in basis.

Prospective employers might include day treatment programs, private practices, hospitals or community health organizations.You could counsel clients individually or in groups, helping your patient's discern, define and deal with their addictions. You also might help develop community outreach programs and other preventative measures.

What Are My Educational Options?

Degree requirements for alcohol and drug counselors vary widely and are determined by the state where you choose to seek employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that some states only require a high school diploma and certification in substance abuse counseling (www.bls.gov). Alternatively, you might be required to earn a bachelor's or master's degree in a social or human services field, depending on the level of licensure you seek.

Generally, the courses required for any form of licensing involve counseling theories and techniques, group counseling, human growth and development, professional ethics, crisis intervention, treatment planning, chemical dependency, multicultural counseling and clinical treatment issues.

How Do I Earn Licensure?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states that counselors need to meet state-determined standards and obtain a license prior to finding work (www.hhs.gov). Each state has different levels of licensure or certification for drug and alcohol counselors, which are based on education and work experience. For instance, Oklahoma has four levels for drug and alcohol counselors. According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, if you want to become licensed in this state, you'll need to complete 270 training hours, 300 supervised practical hours and 6,000 hours of supervised work experience (www.dhhs.ne.gov).

According to HHS, some states are affiliated with national certification organizations, such as the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium or NAADAC (The Association for Addiction Professionals). NAADAC uses an independent organization, the National Certification Commission (NCC), for its credentialing services. Through the NCC, you can become certified as an addictions counselor at three levels (www.naadac.org).

In addition, the National Board for Certified Counselors offers voluntary master addictions counselor certification if you have acquired graduate-level education and at least three years of experience (www.nbcc.org).

What Are My Salary Prospects?

According to a study conducted by the BLS in May 2015, the average annual wage for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $42,920, while the middle 50% of drug and alcohol abuse counselors earned between $31,850 and $51,140. The bottom ten percent of substance abuse counselors earned less than $25,860, with the highest ten percent making more than $63,000. Job growth between 2014 and 2024 is expected to be 22%, which is much faster than average, making this a field with excellent career potential.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of different career paths that have similarities to drug and alcohol addiction counseling. If you have earned a master's degree, consider working as a mental health counselor. These professionals offer support to people struggling with mental health issues causing problems in their lives. Another option is to become a rehabilitation counselor, helping people with various disabilities live independent lives. Rehabilitation counselors also need to be educated to the master's degree level. One position open to those with bachelor's degrees is to become a social and community service manager. They oversee and coordinate resources and events in the community designed to aid the public.

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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  • George Mason University

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