How Can I Become an Alcohol Counselor?

Research what it takes to become an alcohol counselor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary 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 an Alcohol Counselor?

An alcohol counselor is a professional counselor who works with people who struggle with alcohol addiction. Their focus is on helping their clients recognize that they are alcoholics, how that's negatively affecting their lives, and helping their clients get and stay sober. They may work with their clients individually or in group sessions. Alcohol counselors must maintain client confidentiality and document the progress of their clients as they work through sessions. Alcohol counselors also usually work with individuals struggling with other types of addictions as well, such as drug addiction. They are also known as substance abuse counselors.

Review the table below for key details concerning this career.

Degree RequiredVaries from H.S. diploma or G.E.D. to doctoral degree, depending upon career aspirations
Licensure/CertificationMany states require licensure or certification
Voluntary certification is also available from several national certifying agencies
Education Field of StudySubstance Abuse and Addiction Studies
Counseling Psychology
Clinical Psychology
Social Work
Key ResponsibilitiesAssess individuals for problems with alcohol use and other substance use addictions
Develop treatment plans
Implement treatment with individuals, groups and family members
Assess patient progress and readiness for release from treatment
Maintain records as required
Job Growth (2014-2024)22% (for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)*
Mean Salary (2015)$42,490 (for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Does an Alcohol Counselor Help People?

An alcohol counselor helps individuals who have issues with drinking; however, such a counselor may also be trained to treat people with other substance abuse issues. This type of counseling is often done in both individual and group settings. Your job would be to help people identify issues and behaviors that trigger or feed their addictions, and then you would develop individualized recovery programs. You would help people in the recovery process by teaching coping strategies and showing people how to replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.

In addition to working with people who have alcohol problems, you might also work with their loved ones, who deal with the secondhand issues surrounding addiction. You might work in outreach programs and community initiatives to educate the public about addiction.

What Licenses and Certifications Do I Need?

Many states and employers require counselors to be licensed or certified, so you should check with your state's licensing agency before selecting an educational path. Several national certifying agencies offer voluntary credentials for this field. The National Certification Commission offers the National Certified Addiction Counselor Level I (NCAC I), National Certified Addiction Counselor Level II (NCAC II) and Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) credentials. In addition to meeting experience and education requirements, you'll need to have acquired state licensure or certification to sit for the certification exams (

The International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium also offers several relevant credentials, including Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) and Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (AADC). To qualify for these credentials, you'll need to pass an exam, complete a certain number of supervised work experience hours and meet education requirements; however, you don't need to possess state certification or licensure (

What Type of Degree Do I Need?

The type of education you'll need depends on the state where you want to work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's career database, O*Net OnLine, 30% of substance abuse counselors held master's degrees, 19% held bachelor's degrees, and 16% held a professional degree in 2015 ( Associate's degree and certificate programs in human services and substance abuse counseling are offered at community colleges across the U.S. and could qualify you for state licensure. These programs typically involve 1-2 years of study and include an internship experience that can help to meet state licensing requirements.

In some states, you could need a master's degree to become a licensed or certified alcohol counselor. Colleges and universities in the U.S. offer graduate programs at certificate, master's and doctoral levels in substance abuse and addiction studies. You could also enroll in a graduate degree or certificate program in counseling with a concentration in substance abuse or addictions counseling.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Social workers, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors all perform the same basic duties as alcohol counselors. They meet with patients, help them identify issues that are adversely affecting them, and then help them develop strategies to solve their issues or manage them. They must all maintain patient confidentiality, and they must also document their progress with their patients. The specific types of issues that they address are what typically varies. Social workers can work in a wide range of settings, including schools and healthcare facilities. They may work with those who are terminally ill or the families of an ill person. Marriage and family therapists focus on working with couples who are having issues in their relationships or families that are having problems. Mental health counselors primarily work with individuals who have mental health issues. Social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree. Marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors need a master's degree. All social workers and counselors may need to be licensed or certified, and must fulfill the state guidelines to work in their career field.

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