What is Your Career Choice Salary Earning Potential?

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.

Hospitals

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.

Methadone Clinics

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

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.

Treatment Centers

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.

Job Duties

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.

  • Evaluate the physical and mental health of a client.
  • Identify situations and behavior that are counterintuitive to recovery.
  • Provide a safe and nurturing counseling environment.
  • Work with family members to help them with coping strategies to deal with the problems of their loved ones.
  • Actively listen.
  • Create a plan of action.
  • Develop a support network.
  • Make referrals for clients to alternative resources, tools, and services.

Potential Job Titles and Salary

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Addiction Counselor $38,200 $38,300 $50,800
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
School Counselor $44,300 $50,200 $64,100
Substance Abuse Counselor $36,300 $40,200 $46,000

**Salary information from PayScale

Career Outlook

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.

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC
Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$41,670 $27,530 $32,520 $48,610 $58,910

Read more about the Alabama requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 50th percentile 75th percentile
$62,030 $38,490 $47,200 $74,670 $89,330

Read more about the Alaska requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$42,100 $25,860 $30,880 $50,340 $61,130

Read more about the Arizona requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$47,290 $26,350 $35,080 $58,790 $68,120

Read more about the Arkansas requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$47,840 $26,960 $33,430 $57,250 $80,100

Read more about the California requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$48,590 $28,200 $35,400 $59,840 $72,750

Read more about the Colorado requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$50,030 $28,500 $35,820 $61,700 $76,650

Read more about the Connecticut requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$41,510 $26,390 $31,710 $50,160 $60,920

Read more about the Delaware requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$49,910 $26,800 $29,790 $67,360 $79,720

Read more about the District of Columbia requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$44,740 $25,620 $31,870 $55,470 $69,640

Read more about the Florida requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$44,700 $28,210 $34,380 $55,400 $62,860

Read more about the Georgia requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$50,330 $30,630 $36,690 $57,670 $78,870

Read more about the Hawaii requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$49,670 $24,990 $36,320 $57,590 $64,870

Read more about the Idaho requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$42,810 $23,940 $30,320 $52,310 $68,430

Read more about the Illinois requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$41,300 $25,180 $30,380 $49,450 $60,590

Read more about the Indiana requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$44,270 $23,840 $32,220 $52,380 $72,100

Read more about the Iowa requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$40,380 $26,170 $30,990 $47,790 $59,810

Read more about the Kansas requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$41,990 $25,320 $32,160 $49,180 $62,590

Read more about the Kentucky requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$38,710 $22,000 $28,320 $46,660 $60,350

Read more about the Louisiana requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$49,230 $29,170 $37,230 $59,360 $74,570

Read more about the Maine requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$43,870 $25,620 $33,260 $52,200 $63,400

Read more about the Maryland requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$46,310 $28,160 $33,390 $56,520 $72,790

Read more about the Massachusetts requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$45,860 $27,180 $33,570 $54,610 $63,620

Read more about the Michigan requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$48,570 $33,670 $39,470 $56,140 $68,240

Read more about the Minnesota requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$38,630 $24,110 $27,910 $47,160 $59,230

Read more about the Mississippi requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$39,250 $24,330 $30,050 $47,410 $58,450

Read more about the Missouri requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$44,380 $27,420 $33,650 $49,640 $63,330

Read more about the Montana requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$49,610 $29,680 $36,540 $57,330 $73,080

Read more about the Nebraska requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$48,850 $31,160 $39,400 $58,150 $69,400

Read more about the Nevada requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$42,840 $26,930 $32,290 $51,640 $62,990

Read more about the New Hampshire requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$57,200 $35,660 $43,250 $66,890 $83,390

Read more about the New Jersey requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$50,370 $25,220 $35,070 $58,290 $75,160

Read more about the New Mexico requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$47,640 $27,320 $33,940 $58,290 $74,160

Read more about the New York requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$48,050 $33,280 $38,290 $56,090 $63,930

Read more about the North Carolina requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$55,570 $41,820 $49,490 $61,070 $68,230

Read more about the North Dakota requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$45,960 $31,300 $36,200 $51,880 $63,850

Read more about the Ohio requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$47,710 $27,010 $35,020 $58,460 $72,070

Read more about the Oklahoma requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$57,420 $32,260 $37,490 $73,370 $95,350

Read more about the Oregon requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$44,270 $28,040 $33,920 $52,480 $63,350

Read more about the Pennsylvania requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$26,510 $16,730 $18,930 $31,990 $38,210

Read more about the Puerto Rico requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$50,020 $27,980 $33,490 $57,510 $87,900

Read more about the Rhode Island requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$39,910 $21,870 $29,380 $48,620 $62,270

Read more about the South Carolina requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$41,980 $29,390 $33,950 $47,940 $58,560

Read more about the South Dakota requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$39,180 $22,170 $28,640 $48,670 $59,360

Read more about the Tennessee requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$45,790 $27,070 $33,650 $52,310 $64,920

Read more about the Texas requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$67,160 $32,190 $42,490 $76,550 $138,840

Read more about the Utah requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$47,450 $31,730 $35,350 $54,850 $72,160

Read more about the Vermont requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$48,990 $31,530 $36,240 $57,800 $73,500

Read more about the Virginia requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$37,460 $20,340 $26,740 $44,340 $60,750

Read more about the West Virginia requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$45,290 $22,710 $31,060 $57,270 $69,590

Read more about the Wisconsin requirements

Annual Mean Wage 10th Percentile 25th percentile 75th percentile 90th percentile
$56,850 $37,130 $46,340 $67,660 $80,310

Read more about the Wyoming requirements

*Salary information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics