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Drug Rehabilitation Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Careers in drug rehabilitation involve counseling and assisting patients to control their addiction. These professionals also offer different types of pharmacological and emotional support, depending on their qualifications. Job options are available that address both the long term treatment and prevention of drug addiction.

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Overview of Drug Rehabilitation Careers

Job Options

Substance Abuse Counselor

By far the most common position in drug rehabilitation, a substance abuse counselor is trained to work with clients with a variety of addictive habits. Counselors develop unique recovery programs for each of their clients, identifying and disrupting key facets to their lifestyle that enable the addiction. Counseling sessions typically occur in a group setting, though individual counseling may be done in special circumstances.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that in 2012, substance abuse counselors earned an average of $40,920 per year, with colleges and universities offering the profession's highest salaries. The BLS predicts employment of these workers will increase by 27% during the 2010-2020 decade.

Substance Abuse Social Worker

Social workers are trained to provide a variety of services that help improve the lives of the disadvantaged. Substance abuse social workers provide services similar to a counselor, including group therapy session. A social working my also focus on social rehabilitation, the process of integrating clients back into a social life following cessation of an addiction or discharge from a treatment facility.

The average annual wage for substance abuse social workers in 2012 was $43,340, according to the BLS. At that time, outpatient care centers employed the most of these workers, though the highest salaries were found in home health care services. The BLS projects a 25% employment increase for social workers in general between 2010 and 2020.

Substance Abuse Nurse

These registered nurses often provide support to drug rehabilitation clinics with an intimate knowledge of the effect of drug withdrawal and use. Typically these types of nurses administer select medications that ease the withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict seeking treatment. These nurses generally follow guidelines put forth by the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM), but traditional nursing programs generally do not offer substance abuse specializations.

The BLS does not report specifically on substance abuse nurses, but the overall registered nursing field is expected to experience a 26% job growth rate from 2010-2020, according to BLS projections. BLS data from 2012 indicated a mean annual salary of $67,930 for registered nurses at that time.


Requirements for entry into the field of drug rehabilitation vary significantly according to the desires position. Substance abuse nurses, generally only need to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN) in the state they wish to work; however, some positions will require the completion of a specialized associate's degree as well. Social workers specializing in substance abuse must possess at least a bachelor's degree in social work or, in rare instances, a related field such as psychology. A master's degree and additional clinical experience in a substance abuse facility are generally required for employment as a substance abuse counselor.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics