Drug Counseling School and College Program Information

Substance abuse counselors advise people who suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism and other behavioral problems. People seeking to become a substance counselor or a drug counselor should consider enrolling in a certificate program or an associate's degree program; bachelor's degree programs and master's degree programs are available for students who are seeking a more comprehensive education in drug counseling.

Essential Information

Drug counseling, also known as alcohol, substance abuse or addiction counseling, has greater training requirements than other kinds of counseling. The most common requirement is a certificate, but bachelor's and master's degrees are also widely available. Students of these programs will learn behavior modification techniques, evaluation methods, treatment options and prevention strategies. Higher levels of study provide courses in counseling theories, case management and clinical supervisory practices.

Aspiring counselors should learn their state's requirements for the job. Some private sector employers have their own requirements. All education levels require completion of a supervised professional experience.

  • Program Levels in Drug Counseling: Certificate. Associate's degree. Bachelor's degree. Graduate certificate. Master's degree.
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED, and satisfactory ACT/SAT scores for certificate program. High school diploma or GED, satisfactory ACT/SAT scores and participation in a drug and alcohol counseling orientation program for associate's degree. Typical bachelor's degree requirements for bachelor's program. Bachelor's degree for graduate certificate programs and master's degree program.
  • Program Length: Approximately 1 year for certificate. 2 years for associate's degree. 4 years for bachelor's degree. 2 years for Master's degree.
  • Other Requirements: Completion of a supervised professional experience.

Certificate in Drug Counseling

Students interested in drug counseling certificates should know that the terms 'certificate' and 'certification' are often used interchangeably. However, a certificate is an award for completing an academic program, while a certification is a label given to a professional to prove that he or she is an expert in a specific area in his or her profession and usually requires at least a bachelor's degree.There are many course requirements for the drug counseling certificates, but few stand out as being a general requirement. Some of those that do are:

  • Pharmacology of alcohol and drug abuse
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Substance abuse and HIV

Associate's Degrees in Drug Counseling

An associate's degree carries a little more professional weight than a certificate. Courses in the associate's degree program include:

  • Substance abuse principles
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Lifespan psychological development
  • Counseling theories
  • Behavior modification
  • Treatment environments evaluation

Bachelor's Degrees in Drug Counseling

A bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling, sometimes called a bachelor's degree in addiction studies, will lead to better paying jobs than those with only a 2-year associate degree.

The curriculum expands from the associate's degree program into further methods for identifying substance abuse, as well as intervention, prevention and treatment. A bachelor's degree opens up more jobs that involve actual counseling. However, many who choose to earn a bachelor's degree route do so in order to prepare for a master's degree program and eventually become a licensed counselor.

Students in a bachelor's degree program in drug counseling can expect to study:

  • Models in psychotherapy
  • Prevention strategies
  • Diagnostic evaluations
  • Case management
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Family dynamics

Graduate Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling

The focus of a graduate certificate in drug counseling varies significantly from college to college. Some programs are designed for those are already working in some substance abuse setting, whether education, intervention or prevention, with a goal of preparing them for further positions in the field of addictions.

Other programs are for professionals who have a degree in a different field and who wish to become drug and alcohol abuse counselors These programs tend to be interdisciplinary, involving psychology, social work, public health and criminal justice disciplines and may take one to two years to complete.

Coursework for graduate certificates cover the same topics as undergraduate certificates, but the courses are generally more intense and go into more depth. They might include:

  • Screening and assessment
  • Violence prevention
  • Case management
  • Clinical supervision
  • Counseling approaches
  • Psychopharmacology of abused drugs

Master's Degrees in Addictions and Drug Counseling

Master's degrees in drug counseling are designed to allow graduates to become licensed substance abuse counselors. However, not all states have a license specific to addictions counseling Residents of those states would need to pursue a more general counseling program and licensure.

Many of the courses for the master's degree cover the same general topics as courses in a bachelor's program, but with more detail. Courses may include:

  • Counseling ethics
  • Theories of counseling
  • Cultural diversity issues
  • Family issues and dynamics
  • Interventions
  • Assessment measures

Popular Career Options

Entry level jobs in substance abuse counseling, in settings such as hospitals, schools and prevention programs, include:

  • Entry-level counselor
  • Case manager
  • Human resources personnel

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The Bureau of Labor Statistics ( expects that jobs for behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors will increase by 31% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average growth in comparison to all occupations. This is partly because drug abusers are being sent to counseling rather than jail much more often than in the past. The median salary in May 2014 for these counselors was $38,520.

Continuing Education Information

For the addictions counselor who wants to climb the career ladder, the next step to work towards an associate degree. Beyond that is the bachelor's degree, possibly a graduate certificate and finally a master's degree. Anything after that would require becoming a licensed psychologist. Professional certifications include Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC) and Certified Addiction Specialist (CAS). Some states have licensure for addictions counselors.

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