The chronic use of a substance that alters the mind, such as alcohol or narcotics, is referred to as substance abuse. Although the majority of drug abusers may discover that these chemicals come with a lot of euphoric side effects, the truth is that such substances are ultimately quite destructive. For instance, these addictive chemicals can shatter a person's spirit in addition to harming their physical health.

Substance addiction therapy is a type of counseling that can be used to assist individuals in overcoming substance dependencies, including those involving alcohol and drugs.

Counselors for drug addiction may assist people in dealing with these issues by guiding clients away from substance abuse. People can overcome their addictions with the aid of experts in this profession, start making better decisions, and live healthier lives.

Step 1: Complete a Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor Degree

Within the substance abuse and addiction counseling field, you can enroll in various educational courses to prepare yourself for a satisfying professional career. As in other professional domains, your income, level of autonomy, and job duties will typically directly correlate to the amount of training and education you've obtained.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: For those who want to get the knowledge and credentials necessary to work as a substance abuse and addiction counselor, getting a bachelor's degree from a college or university is usually the first step. From a broader perspective, earning a bachelor's degree in counseling or psychology is the most effective way to begin pursuing a career in substance abuse and addiction counseling. It's generally advised that you enroll in numerous courses explicitly dealing with drug abuse and rehabilitation during your pursuit of this degree. Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies or Addiction Therapy are the most popular majors for those pursuing a career in substance abuse and addiction counseling. Students who get a bachelor's degree in the behavioral sciences and counseling can concentrate their academic efforts on a subject that's even more specialized.
  • Master’s Degree: Obtaining a master's degree in addiction counseling and completing a number of hours of supervised training in a clinical environment also tend to be requirements if you want to pursue a career as a licensed or certified substance abuse and addiction counselor. After completing graduate level curriculum toward a Master's or Doctorate (Ph.D.) degree, students will have the information and abilities necessary to become licensed counselors and engage with clients in private practice if they choose to.
  • Graduate Certificate: Those who hold a master’s in psychology or counseling (and in some cases, a bachelor’s degree) are eligible to enroll in a graduate certificate program for addiction counseling. These one-year programs make it much more feasible for students at this level to enter the niche area of substance abuse counseling without having to complete an expensive and lengthy degree program.
  • Doctorate Degree: For those wanting to become licensed psychologists, conduct high-level research, or enter higher education, a doctorate degree such as a Ph.D. or PsyD might be advantageous. It’s not required to become an addictions counselor, however.

Step 2: Become Licensed as a Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor

Students and professionals who have either finished a major in one or more related fields or who are simultaneously pursuing a degree in the behavioral sciences, therapy, or counseling are also able to enroll in programs that allow them to be certified in substance abuse counseling, addiction counseling, and/or drug and alcohol abuse studies.

Internship / Practicum Experience

If a person has the qualifying life experience of conquering addiction, they may be able to join the profession of substance abuse and addictions counseling with very little schooling. A person is considered to have useful knowledge in the field if they've been sober and clean for at least two years. Some experience in the field, through an internship or other supervised practice, will always be advantageous.


The certification or licensing of a counselor in some jurisdictions, especially when working in certain settings (such as education or healthcare), may necessitate passing an exam, even if there aren't exams that are specifically for drug abuse and addictions therapy. For more information on relevant examinations, it's advised that you contact your state government.

State Requirements

Although it's advised that you check your state's eligibility criteria before enrolling in a substance abuse and addictions counseling program, certificate programs often satisfy the education and training requirements that allow you to become certified in this field by your State Department of Health.

Step 3: Apply for a Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor Job

Before beginning any type of counseling or treatment, substance abuse and addictions counselors must be certain that their clients are sincere in their desire to break their patterns and discontinue recurrences of substance abuse. Without this desire, neither the addict nor the therapist will likely be able to accomplish much other than wasting a lot of time.

In a majority of cases, addicts or affected people approach substance abuse and addictions counselors when they're ready. However, in other cases, affected persons could be compelled to visit a counselor by family members or by police or government authorities. A family might contact a drug addiction counselor for assistance in behavioral intervention, such as when a person's loved ones confront them about the consequences of their substance abuse. This kind of therapy could also be a requirement of someone's jail sentence, probation, or parole.

A drug addiction counselor will first attempt to ascertain the type and extent of a client's substance abuse before developing a therapy plan for them. The client is often interviewed for this purpose, and they're encouraged to be absolutely honest about their behavior. Counselors who work with substance-abuse clients may also be able to tell something about them based on specific behavioral and physical characteristics.

What Careers Can I Pursue With a Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor Degree?

It's important to distinguish between the various types of positions that are often referred to as "counselors" in the area of substance abuse and addictions therapy. Each treatment center has a unique set of staff titles that are created by their human resources departments. As a result, a low-level employee who's only graduated high school but possesses relevant experience could be referred to as a "counselor" in certain contexts, while the word "counselor" might only be used to refer to individuals with a Master's degree in other contexts. It's crucial to remember that statistical data on earnings and pay for substance abuse and addictions counselors may represent the average for all positions, for all organizations, and/or for those who have master’s or Ph.D. degrees.

While every institution has a different staff structure, a majority of the ones listed below demand that their entry-level workers (those with or without a high school education) have first-hand knowledge of drug and/or alcohol abuse. These institutions demand that these employees refrain from using drugs or alcohol for a certain amount of time — often two or three years prior to their employment. This particular experience criterion stems from the tenet of the original 12-Step Program for alcoholics that only an alcoholic in sobriety can assist another alcoholic in sobriety.

The following four categories are career path options that you could pursue in substance abuse and addictions counseling:

• Treatment Facilities

• Public and Private Hospitals

• School Districts

• Methadone Clinics

In 2021, approximately 351,000 substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors were employed in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor employment is expected to grow at a rate of 22% during the 2021-2031 decade, generating some 77,500 new positions in this time frame.

Where Can I Work With a Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor Degree?

Substance abuse and addictions counselors often work in the settings of correctional institutions, schools, social and human care agencies, and hospitals.

Additionally, some substance abuse and addictions counselors might opt to start their own private clinics.

Step 4: Learn About Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor Salaries

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned an average annual wage of $53,490 in the U.S. as of 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These types of counselors' median annual wages, according to the BLS, range from $59,790 in California to $49,480 in Pennsylvania, two of the states with the greatest employment levels in this profession. It should be noted that counselors possessing graduate degrees often report earning more money than those who lack such degrees.

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