How Can I Become a Chemical Dependency Counselor?

Research what it takes to become a chemical dependency counselor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, 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 Chemical Dependency Counselor?

Chemical dependency counselors are also known as substance abuse counselors or substance abuse therapists. Their focus is on helping individuals overcome addictions to substances such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Their goal is to help their patients lead addiction-free lives. They work with patients individually or in group sessions, maintain their confidentiality, help the patient identify their addiction and how it is affecting them and then work with the patient to help them develop strategies to refrain from using substances.

Degree RequiredVaries from high school diploma or G.E.D. through doctoral degree depending upon career aspirations
Education Field of StudyChemical dependency counseling
Substance abuse counseling
Addiction counseling
Counseling psychology
Social work
Key ResponsibilitiesAssess individuals to determine if they have a chemical dependency problem
Develop treatment plans to help individuals recover from chemical dependency
Counsel individuals, groups, and family members regarding chemical dependency
Evaluate progress and readiness for termination
Maintain records as required by law and regulations
Licensure/CertificationLicensure or certification is required in all states, but specific requirements vary widely by state
Job Growth (2014-2024)22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*
Median Salary (2015)$38,949**

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Should I Study to Become a Chemical Dependency Counselor?

If you want to become a chemical dependency counselor, also known as a substance abuse or drug and alcohol counselor, you might complete an associate's degree program in chemical dependency counseling, substance abuse counseling or addiction counseling. These programs combine academic coursework with field experience to prepare you for entry-level positions in chemical dependency counseling. Topics of study might include:

  • Alcohol and other drug addictions
  • Basic counseling skills
  • Pharmacology
  • Criminal justice
  • Professional development

In some states, you'll need further education to qualify for licensure. In these instances, you might earn a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in psychology, counseling, social work or a related field with a concentration in chemical dependency. These programs often examine measurements and tests used to diagnose dependencies, in addition to providing you with a deeper understanding of substance abuse.

What Are the Requirements for Licensure?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, requirements for licensure or certification of substance abuse counselors vary greatly by state ( For example, in Vermont, candidates for licensure must have a master's or doctoral degree in a human services or allied mental health field, according to the Vermont Department of Health's Agency of Human Services ( In contrast, the Hawaii State Department of Health requires that applicants for its Certified Substance Abuse Counselor designation have only a high school diploma or the equivalent, coupled with 270 hours of approved training courses (

Is National Certification Available?

The National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) offers three levels of voluntary certification - National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC), Level I; NCAC, Level II; and Master Addiction Counselor - based on education and experience. Some states accept NAADAC certification as state certification. If this is not the case in your state, you must earn state certification or licensure before taking an NAADAC exam.

Voluntary national certification also is available through the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). Available designations include Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) and Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (AADC).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that chemical dependency counselors do has many similarities to the work that mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists and behavioral disorder counselors do. All of these professionals meet with patients individually or in groups. They all work to help their patients identify issues that are impacting their lives negatively, and they then work with their patients to help them develop strategies to address those issues. Their goal is to help their patients lead a more fulfilling lives. Behavioral disorder counselors usually need a bachelor's degree or master's degree. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists need a master's degree. All counselors and therapists need to fulfill their state's licensing requirements to work in their field.

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