Substance Abuse Counselor: Job Duties, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for substance abuse 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 Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Do?

A substance abuse counselor works with people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol to overcome their addictions. Often done in group sessions, a counselor will work with clients or patients to manage or overcome the effects of substance abuse on a personal, emotional, and professional level. They also help individuals come up with plans to move forward substance free. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a substance abuse counselor.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree is most common, though some positions require a master's degree
Education Field Counseling, substance abuse counseling, addiction counseling
Key Responsibilities Evaluate patient and create treatment plan; provide counseling and referrals to community resources and programs; assist patient with skills to remain sober and cope with stressors; evaluate patient progress and amend treatment plan accordingly
Licensure and/or Certification Substance abuse counselors in private practice must be licensed; professional certification may be required for counselors without a graduate degree
Job Growth (2014-2024) 22% (for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)*
Median Salary (2015) $39,980*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Job Duties as a Substance Abuse Counselor?

As a substance abuse counselor, you'll help patients with a variety of problems stemming from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Your primary task typically consists of designing and managing a personalized recovery plan for each patient. You'll help your patients identify sources of negative behavior and understand the effects that these behaviors have on loved ones. The overall goal is to help these individuals overcome their addictions and become self-sufficient.

In addition to interventions, you'll focus on teaching patients preventative measures to safeguard against potential relapses. Your counseling sessions may be on a one-on-one basis or in a group format. You will usually prepare progress reports and keep detailed records on each patient. Both your administrative and clinical practices must comply with confidentiality requirements as well as state and federal regulations.

What Is My Employment Outlook?

Your job prospects as a substance abuse counselor look very favorable, since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the profession would grow by 22% for the 2014-2024 decade. Increases in addiction knowledge and more drug offenders being sent to rehabilitation programs rather than prisons may be responsible for this growing demand for substance abuse counselors. As a counselor, you will likely be working in hospitals, private practices, treatment programs or community outreach programs. According to the BLS, chemical dependency counselors had an annual median salary of $39,980 in 2015.

What Are My Education Requirements?

While most require at least a bachelor's degree, education requirements for substance abuse counselors can vary substantially from state to state, so become familiar with your respective state's requirements. You may need a master's degree in counseling to become a licensed counselor in some states. As a student in one of these degree programs, you may take coursework in group therapy, drug policies, addictions research, individual treatment, mental health and ethics.

For other states, you'll need at least a high school diploma and accredited certification. You can seek multiple levels of certification through the Association for Addiction Professionals, and each level has a combination of work, education and experience requirements. For each level of certification, you will need to pass a multiple-choice examination and meet continuing education requirements.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in counseling in a different field, you might consider school counseling or mental health counseling. School counselors work with students in private and public schools, helping them develop academic and social skills. Mental health counselors focus on treating disorders like depression and help clients develop their coping techniques. Both of these career paths require a master's degree and licensure, and in some states, school counselors need prior teaching experience. Becoming a social worker is another alternative, which involves practices that are similar to those of counselors, including identifying social or emotional issues in clients. Clinical social work requires a master's degree, while entry-level work in the field may be attained with 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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