Addictions Counselor: Job Description & Career Info
Addictions counselors help patients to overcome personal addiction problems. Requirements vary, with some states allowing high school graduates with certifications to become counselors and others requiring candidates to have a master's degree.
Addictions Counselor Job Description
Addictions counselors work with patients suffering from substance abuse problems and other addictions such as gambling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), addictions counselors develop recovery programs and coping strategies to avoid relapses (www.bls.gov). In addition to counseling addicts, they may conduct sessions with family members and friends. In serious cases, they may refer a patient to a psychiatrist or other medical professional.
The BLS indicated that employment for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was expected to increase 31% from 2012-2022, which is significantly faster than average. As awareness of the benefits of counseling has grown, more individuals have sought these counselors' services. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, both government agencies and employers now fund drug treatment programs (www.nida.nih.gov). Another factor spurring the growth of addictions counseling is that many states are referring non-violent and first-time drug offenders to treatment rather than prison.
In May 2013, the BLS reported that addictions counselors earned a mean wage of $41,090 annually, with most earning salaries between $25,200 and $60,160. The highest-paying industries included education, nursing and civic/social organizations.
Becoming an Addictions Counselor
Educational requirements for addictions counselors vary depending on the type of certification they wish to attain. Individuals may earn initial certifications with a certificate or associate's degree. More advanced levels of certification typically require a bachelor's or master's degree. In addition to coursework, extensive clinical experience is typically a requirement.
Certificate and associate's degree programs include foundational coursework in addictive behaviors and treatments. Some courses may be directed toward children and families or specific addictions such as alcohol. Students at the bachelor's degree level may consider addiction studies, psychology, behavioral science or related majors. These curricula offer coursework relevant to addictions counseling, including decision making, human development, applied statistics and social psychology.
Master's degree programs in substance abuse and addiction counseling are available, and some clinical psychology and mental health counseling programs may also offer an addictions counseling concentration. Graduate-level curricula include advanced topics in the diagnosis and treatment of addicts. Students may be required to complete a research project prior to graduating.
Clinical experience through a practicum or internship places students in healthcare facilities where they are supervised by licensed professionals. Students gain hands-on experience with patients and receive feedback on their performance. Internships may last up to a year and count toward experience requirements for certification and licensure.
Addictions counselors working in a private practice are required to be licensed. Educational and experience requirements for licensure differ by state but often include completing a postsecondary degree and accruing a set number of contact hours. In addition, a written certifying exam may be required. Some states allow counselors who have earned a license in another state to transfer their credentials and work without repeating the entire licensing process.
The Association for Addiction Professionals, formerly the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, offers several certifications in the field (www.naadac.org). As individuals gain more education and experience, they qualify for advanced-level certifications. The first credential offered is the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level 1, which requires a state license and either three years or 6,000 hours of experience.
The National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) credentials (www.nbcc.org). Individuals interested in earning a MAC credential must first hold the NCC. Each of these credentials requires a master's degree, experience and a passing score on a certifying exam.
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