Substance Abuse Counselor Career Information, Jobs, Degrees & Training Programs

More than 20 million people throughout the United States struggle with substance abuse. Overcoming drug and alcohol addiction is very difficult without the assistance of trained professionals. Substance abuse counselors teach addicts how to manage stress and avoid situations that trigger relapse.

In addition to current addicts, substance abuse counselors also work with recovering addicts who are now sober. Occasionally, they work with families to organize interventions. These specialists also counsel family members of addicts. Substance abuse counseling can be very difficult, but helping people overcome addiction is very rewarding.

Substance abuse counselors do not administer psychotherapy and other clinical treatments. They typically assist addicts under the supervision of licensed psychologists or doctors at substance abuse rehabilitation centers, halfway houses, and outpatient clinics. They frequently assist mentally ill and homeless addicts. Some substance abuse counselors reside in halfway houses.

Whether in group or individual sessions, addicts can share their frustrations, fears, and concerns with counselors. In addition to counseling, substance abuse counselors also help patients find jobs, and they refer them to social services agencies and other groups that can help. The following are typically duties of substance abuse counselors:

  • Maintain patient records
  • Develop patient care plans
  • Organize crisis interventions
  • Refer patients to medical professionals
  • Evaluate patient's progress
  • Counsel family members of addicts
  • Attend staff meetings
  • Consult with psychologists and medical specialists
Job Characteristics

Substance abuse counselors must be patient, empathetic, good listeners, and eager to help their patients. This job is often stressful and discouraging since patients frequently relapse, get sick, or overdose.

Employment Outlook

Job growth for this profession is projected to increase steadily during the next few years. More people are now seeking treatment, and more convicted criminals are now required to undergo drug and alcohol counseling rather than serve prison sentences.

During 2006, more than 80,000 people worked as substance abuse counselors throughout the United States. Median salaries for these professionals exceeded $30,000 annually. Substance abuse counselors with salaries in the upper 10th percentile made more than $50,000 annually, while those in the lower 10th percentile made less than $22,600 a year.

Substance abuse counselors who've completed some college often get promoted to manage halfway houses. Counselors with college degrees and work experience can get promoted to administration and supervisory positions with government agencies, rehabilitation clinics, and private clinics.

Substance Abuse Counselor Degrees, Certification, and Licensing

Many organizations will train newly hired counselors, but they tend to hire people with bachelor's or graduate degrees in sociology, psychology, counseling, or related disciplines. Many organizations seek counselors who've volunteered at substance abuse rehabilitation centers, performed counseling, or successfully recovered from addiction. Some counselors who work exclusively with addicts have completed graduate-level training in mental health counseling.

Licensing requirements for substance abuse counselors differ in each state. Some state licensing boards require counselors to become certified with the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and successfully complete high school. The NBCC offers an addiction counseling certification.


Additional information about substance abuse counseling careers can be obtained from these organizations:
  • American Counseling Association
  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, American Counseling Association
  • National Board for Certified Counselors

Enjoy this post? Don't forget to share.

Find Psychology Careers

Search the Most Popular Psychology Careers by Specialty