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A substance abuse counselor is a type of mental health counselor who treats patients suffering from drug or alcohol dependency. They may also treat individuals who are concerned they are abusing drugs and alcohol in a way that might lead to addiction. These mental health professionals will work with both the chemically dependent client and their family to find coping strategies and plans of action to foster success for everyone. Family involvement can be an important part of the recovery and healing process. Substance abuse counselors are increasingly in demand and they are expected to continue to be so through 2026. People who enjoy helping others and have patience often make ideal substance abuse counselors.
To become a licensed substance abuse counselor, your educational and training requirements will vary from state to state. Most people will complete degree programs at accredited colleges and universities. Some states might only require a certificate; whereas, other states will require a degree. All potential counselors will require a certain number of supervised hours with clients, to pass an exam, and to clear child abuse and felony background checks. Majors for this career can also vary, however, most people choose an undergraduate degree in psychology and specialize in substance abuse as a minor when it is available. You might also have to complete the National Counselor Exam to become officially licensed in addiction and substance abuse within your state.
Some employers will hire former addicts without any formal education or training. These individuals are expected to have been clean and sober for a number of years, usually two or more. Those who employ these types of substance abuse counselors believe that the real-life struggle of someone who has overcome their problems can be highly beneficial to those who are currently abusing alcohol or drugs. Employment for these individuals is highly limited but you can always take accredited online courses to complete certifications and degrees while you work.
You will require a number of hard and soft skills to be a success as a substance abuse counselor and it can be helpful to have certain natural or experience-based characteristics. Your hard skills will be the right education, certifications, and job experiences. If you have not completed your supervised training, you are less likely to be hired. Individuals who are able to manage stress well, have superior social skills, possess the ability to maintain appropriate boundaries, and have experience with recovery are likely to perform well as a counselor. And the soft skills that help mental health professionals excel in this field are highly specific, such as confidence, a desire to help, empathy, and listening skills.
The growth of this profession is directly related to current social issues. The opioid addiction crisis continues to be a significant strain despite states working to implement prevention and treatment programs. Jails and prisons are overcrowded, influencing a move by judges to sentence more criminals to drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation rather than to jail or prison. Another trend is happening among employers; some are more likely to send their employees to treatment rather than to terminate them, particularly for those who can do video sessions rather than miss work. Schools are also taking a more proactive role dealing with alcohol and drug abuse in teens and even children who are raised by drug and alcohol abusers. All of these trends are leading to significant growth in the substance abuse counseling field.
Places You Can Work
The type of employers seeking substance abuse counselors will vary. You could work anywhere from a private clinic to a public school, interacting with kids. This position typically requires a minimum of 40 hours per week. In some instances, you might work more. It is important that you establish boundaries in this job, or you may experience burn-out and not have the work-life balance that is essential to the health of your own relationships. Also, keep in mind that you will be helping some individuals who are dealing with very complex, difficult, and draining problems, not just with their addiction, but with the effects it has on their family, work life, and children. You must have a highly strong emotional and physical core to be able to help these people without being negatively affected yourself.
Employee Assistance Programs
Employee assistance programs are often provided by progressive employers to aid in the mental health of their employees. Many companies believe that the mental health of employees is essential to the success of their business and the overall happiness of their customers. As such, employers will pay to have their employees seek counseling for their personal problems, including alcohol and drug abuse.
Laws and medical policies are changing to require hospitals to keep mental health professionals on staff, including substance abuse counselors. Hospitals, like many medical professions today, are grasping the overall importance of mental health. You might be able to work in a hospital, clinic, community non-profit, or state-funded program center. As greater emphasis is placed on mental health, there is more need for mental health counselors of all sorts.
A methadone clinic is designated for treating individuals with an opioid addiction through the administration of methadone. These highly specialized clinics also offer a range of support programs for patients, such as regular meetings with a substance abuse counselor. Because these clinics are government regulated, you will have to meet more stringent standards than with some other employers.
School districts recognize the need for mental health professionals more than ever given the state of public schools in the country. A substance abuse counselor in a school works with at-risk youth who are abusing drugs and alcohol or those who are or might be considering it. The idea behind this program is not to replace the traditional school counselor but rather act as a preventative measure to prevent crime, and as a way to provide at-risk students a more promising path to success in life. This is also done at school so that families are not burdened with the time or money required to seek treatment outside of school.
Drug and alcohol treatment centers are traditionally one of the largest employers of substance abuse counselors. These types of positions require one-on-one counseling and group discussions. The more reputable the treatment center the more education and training you will likely require. It is possible to work at a small center to gain experience as you complete higher education.
The job duties of a substance abuse counselor will vary based on the employer and state. It is important to note that a counselor of this type will not be permitted to give psychological therapy or to prescribe medications. You will act as a mentor and an advocate for your clients to help them reach understanding of the reasons they have become dependent on drugs or alcohol. You might also help them find employment, help them establish support networks, create life improvement plans, and work with the family members who have been affected. The overall goal of this type of counselor is to help the client become self-sufficient without the use of drugs or alcohol.
Potential Job Titles and Salary
|Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselor||$36,000||$38,500||$44,600|
|Behavioral Health Specialist||$34,900||$44,900||$62,200|
|Certified Addiction Drug and Alcohol Counselor||$36,700||$40,400||$43,500|
|Chemical Dependency Counselor||$36,000||$41,300||$43,000|
|Mental Health Counselor||$39,300||$43,000||$49,300|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$36,300||$40,200||$46,000|
**Salary information from PayScale
The job outlook for a substance abuse counselor far exceeds that of nearly all other careers between 2016 and 2026. This counseling field is expected to grow by up to 23% during this time. This exceptional growth can be attributed to the trends of more substance abuse counselors in schools, more rehabilitation sentencing, more employer support, and the opioid crisis. The number of substance abuse counselors has already grown by roughly 30,000 jobs since 2012. These jobs are often considered highly fulfilling and in the top 50 of overall best jobs in the US and top 25 for the best health profession jobs.
An often-overlooked aspect of substance abuse counselors is the significant ways by which they positively impact society. These professionals are directly related to community improvements in several ways, including lower crime rates, fewer hospitalizations and accidents, safer roads, and less domestic violence. And these mental health professionals help to improve the lives of dozens of people through just one client, from family members to children. If you want to make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of thousands of people over the course of your career, you might just want to become a substance abuse counselor.
|Annual Mean Wage||10th Percentile||25th percentile||75th percentile||90th percentile|
*Salary information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics