Students interested in drug counseling can enroll in 2-year associate's programs in substance abuse counseling, 4-year bachelor's programs in addiction counseling or 2-year master's programs in substance abuse and clinical counseling. Drug counseling degree students take lecture-intensive courses, and undergraduate and graduate students participate in internships or field experiences. Certification or licensure requirements for substance abuse counselors vary by state, with some states requiring only a high school diploma and some job-specific training. In most states, however, a master's degree and post-master's clinical experience are required in order to work in private practice as a substance abuse counselor. Other potential job titles may include case worker, human services assistant or social services administrator.
Associate's Degree in Drug Counseling
An associate degree program in substance abuse counseling introduces principles of drug addiction therapy. Students learn how societal and mental health issues attribute to drug and addiction illnesses. They gain real world experiences and develop listening and communication skills. Students interested in enrolling in a 2-year drug-counseling program must have a high school diploma or GED. Upon admittance, students may have to complete a college placement test. Drug counseling practicum and internship experiences are often required. Topics of study include:
- Foundations in psychology
- Addiction therapy
- Counseling strategies for group sessions
- Strategies for personal development
- Chemical addictions and mental disorders
Bachelor's Degree in Drug Counseling
Students interested in a 4-year program for drug counseling can earn a Bachelor of Science in Addiction Counseling or a related degree. At the undergraduate level, drug-counseling students learn to diagnose and treat those suffering from addictions. Many drug counseling bachelor's programs are completion programs for associate's degree holders. Applicants who have not earned associate's degrees and are applying to 4-year bachelor's programs must have high school diplomas or GEDs. Standardized test scores and transcripts will also be required. Students must participate in professional work experience and take classes in the following subjects:
- Mental effect of drug addiction
- Managing caseloads
- Prevention and intervention strategies
- Individual evaluation techniques
- Effect of addictions on family structure
Master's Degree in Drug Counseling
At the graduate level, students may earn Master of Science degrees in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling. Students learn advanced theories and strategies for substance abuse counseling while developing analytical and research skills. Students enrolling in graduate drug-counseling programs must have bachelor's degrees from accredited institutions. Experience in drug counseling may be preferred. Generally, an undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or higher is required. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Miller Analogies Test scores are also necessary. Students take part in practica and complete a capstone project. A 3.0 GPA is often required for successful completion of the drug-counseling program. Classes consist of:
- Counseling cross-cultural populations
- Psychology of human life progression
- Studying mental illness in a clinical setting
- Advanced theories in addictions therapy
- Spirituality in recovery
Popular Career Options
Graduates of a 4-year drug abuse program can work in hospitals, jails, clinics, mental health facilities and halfway houses. Job opportunities may include:
- Case worker
- Social worker
- Human services worker
- Drug abuse counselor
- Alcohol and tobacco addictions counselor
In order to work as a drug counselor, an individual needs state licensure in every state but California and professional certification. Those who have obtained state licensure can take the NAADAC Association for Addiction Professionals exam to become a National Certified Addiction Counselor, www.naadac.org.
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
Some states may allow associate degree-holders to obtain licensure as addictions counselors; however, most require a master's degree in substance abuse counseling or a similar discipline. More often, graduates of an associate's degree program may qualify to work as human and social services assistants. As of May 2015, these workers earned a median annual salary of $30,830, and employment in this sector was expected to climb about 11% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), www.bls.gov.
From 2014 to 2024, the field of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling is expected to experience a 22% rise in employment, according to BLS data. In May 2015, these counselors earned a median annual salary of $39,980. In that same year, states with the most substance abuse counselors included California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Drug counseling degree programs vary in length and level, ranging from associate's to master's degrees. Upon graduation, counselors may need to gain certification depending on state requirements.