How Do I Become a Certified Drug Counselor?

Research what it takes to become a certified drug counselor. 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 Drug Counselor?

A certified drug counselor is qualified to work with individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They may address physical addiction or emotional dependency on drugs and alcohol. Their specific focus is to help their patients develop strategies to avoid addictive behaviors, get sober and refrain from further drug or alcohol use. Certified drug counselors may work with people individually or they may work with groups. They are also known as substance abuse counselors. The table below has more information about entering this career field:

Degree RequiredVaries from a high school diploma to a master's degree
Education Field of StudySubstance abuse counseling
Key ResponsibilitiesEvaluate individuals for drug and alcohol-related problems;
Provide substance abuse treatment to individuals, groups, and families;
Evaluate readiness to terminate treatment;
Keep records in accordance with local laws and regulations
Licensure/CertificationMost states require licensure or certification
Job Growth (2014-2024)22%*
Mean Salary (2015)$42,920*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does A Certified Drug Counselor Do?

As a certified drug counselor, you work with people with drug and alcohol problems who either wish to become free of their dependency or are mandated to do so by the court. You evaluate them and counsel them on recognizing destructive behavior, applying good decision making skills and leading a normal, substance-free life. You have the opportunity to work in a number of places, such as schools, churches, hospitals, clinics and correctional facilities.

What Kind Of Education Do I Need?

Generally, there are two educational paths to becoming a substance abuse counselor. You can attend a program leading to a certificate in substance abuse counseling or an undergraduate program leading to a bachelor's degree. While a bachelor's degree is considered a formal educational degree, certificates are regarded more as a professional achievement, not a formal degree.

You should expect to devote four years towards the completion of a bachelor's degree program. There are programs leading to either a Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling or Bachelor of Arts in Substance Abuse Counseling. Generally, you will take some general educational courses as outlined by the university as well as courses specifically designed for the major. Both programs cover essential topics, such as:

  • Ethics in counseling
  • Family dynamics and substance abuse counseling
  • Diagnostic evaluation and assessment methods
  • Principles and practices of group counseling
  • Psychopharmacology

Certificate programs are often significantly shorter in length, and are predominantly aimed at working professionals, such as nurses, school counselors or ministers, who are looking for some educational supplement. Programs vary from five to seven classes and are typically offered at nights or weekends through the continuing education department.

How Do I Get Certified?

You should consult state boards for specific educational and professional requirements. Currently there are two levels of national certification available for substance abuse counselors from the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). Level 1 (NCAC-1) certification requires at least three years of supervised professional experience, current state licensure/certification as a substance abuse counselor, 270 hours of training in substance abuse counseling and six hours of training in both ethics and HIV/AIDS. Level 2 requires a bachelor's degree, six hours of training in both HIV/AIDS and ethics, at least five years supervised professional experience, 450 hours of training and current state licensure/certification in substance abuse counseling. Certification is obtained by passing the comprehensive written exam for either Level 1 or Level 2.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists and behavioral disorder counselors all perform many duties that are similar to the work of a certified drug counselor. They meet with patients individually or in groups, like certified drug counselors do. They work with the patient to help them identify triggers or behavioral patterns that may lead to choices the patient is trying to avoid. These counselors and therapists also work with their patients to help them make better choices and avoid destructive behaviors.

The specific issues that mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists and behavioral disorder counselors address may not be the same as the issues that patients of certified drug counselors have, but the goal of these counselors and therapists is the same: helping patients improve the quality of their lives by making better choices. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists need a master's degree to work in their field, while behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree.

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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