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What Education Is Required to Become an Addictions Counselor?

A person pursuing a career as an addictions or substance abuse counselor must have some level of formal education and may need a license in the state in which he or she wishes to practice.

Career Overview

An addictions counselor works with people with substance abuse issues. Addictions counselors diagnose clients to identify addictions, help clients create treatment goals and counsel people in various settings. An ability to keep records, read up on the latest research on addictions, and work with other people is also vital for this profession. The goal of an addictions counselor is to help people recognize the reasons for their addiction and the problems associated with a substance abuse issue, as well as helping clients maintain control over their desire to use.

Important Facts About This Degree

Online Availability Master's degrees and graduate certificates available online
Prerequisites Bachelor's degrees typically required for acceptance into master's programs
Degree Fields Addictions counseling, alcohol and drug abuse studies, counseling with a specialization in drug and alcohol/addictions counseling
Continuing Education Required to renew certifications and licenses
Median Pay (2018)$44,630 (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026)23% growth (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education

Each state has individual education requirements for addictions counselors that can fall anywhere from a high school diploma to a master's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Counselors working in private practice are required to be licensed in all states; a master's degree and supervised clinical experience are generally required to become a licensed addictions counselor. The requirements for counselors not working in private practice vary across different states and may require you to either complete a degree and/or take an exam.

Typical Counseling Courses

An aspiring addictions counselor may pursue a degree such as a Master of Science in Addiction Counseling. Additionally, future counselors with educational backgrounds in related areas of health or social services may earn a graduate certificate in addictions counseling or alcohol and drug abuse studies. Both types of programs may include courses in psychology, psychopharmacology, as well as courses about the theories and methods of counseling those with substance abuse issues. Some course topics are listed below:

  • Diagnosis and assessment
  • Interventions
  • Counseling techniques
  • Family relationships

Professional Certification

The Association for Addictions Professionals provides three levels of certification for addictions counselors who wish to advance in their careers, as well as multiple credentials for specialization. Holding one of the three main certifications can help an addictions counselor gain an increased salary, have better chances for independent practice and demonstrate a commitment to excellence. Eligibility for the certification requires a minimum of a high school diploma for the lowest-level certification, bachelor's degree for the mid-level certification, and for the highest level you need a master's degree in a field that is applicable to alcohol and drug abuse treatment.