Drug Counselor Training Program Information

Training to become a drug counselor may occur within an undergraduate certificate, bachelor's degree, master's degree or graduate certificate program.

Essential Information

Training requirements for drug counselors vary by state, so individuals need to confirm the level of education needed to work in this field in their state. Certification requirements vary by state as well. Coursework may touch on the criminal justice system, co-dependency and abnormal psychology.

  • Program Levels in Drug Counseling Programs: Undergraduate certificate, bachelor's degree, master's degree, or graduate certificate program
  • Prerequisites: For certificate and undergraduate programs, a high school diploma is required; for master's degree programs, a four year college degree is required
  • Program Length:: Anywhere from six months to four years, depending on degree level
  • Experiential Learning: Internships, written projects

Drug and Alcohol Counseling Certificate

In some states, drug and alcohol counselors need as little as a high school diploma and certification, often issued by the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC), in order to practice. Certification requires at least some education and practical experience, which often can be gained through a certificate program in alcohol and drug counseling. These programs usually are offered through 2-year colleges or extension departments at 4-year colleges. Generally, coursework typically takes at least six months to complete and includes theories of counseling, treatment planning and crisis intervention, as well as a supervised internship. Certificate programs usually require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Some common course topics include:

  • Personal adjustment
  • Introduction to chemical addiction
  • Disease models of addiction
  • Addicts and the criminal justice system
  • Addiction assessment methods
  • Relapse and recovery

Bachelor of Science in Alcohol and Drug Counseling

Earning an undergraduate degree in alcohol and drug counseling might make it easier to meet IC&RC work experience standards, which allow for substitution of 2,000 hours of work with a bachelor's degree in a behavioral science. Bachelor's degree courses in alcohol and drug counseling typically delve more deeply into the psychological, physical and social implications of addiction. Bachelor's degree programs typically require two years worth of general education classes, followed by 60 career-specific credits taken over an additional two years. In general, applicants to bachelor's degree programs in alcohol and drug counseling must submit transcripts from any secondary and post-secondary schools that they've attended. Some programs also require a statement of purpose or letters of recommendation. Some common course topics include:

  • Drug studies
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Interpersonal skills for the helping professions
  • Co-dependency
  • Addiction and the family
  • Addiction and the law

Master of Science in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling

Master's programs in drug and alcohol counseling often include 40 hours of graduate classes, in addition to passage of a comprehensive exam and completion of a research paper or master's thesis. Students also might be required to participate in supervised clinical work. These 2-year programs might allow for specialization in areas such as evidence-based counseling techniques or cultural sensitivity. Admission to graduate school requires a 4-year college degree, a Graduate Record Exam score, and transcripts of college work. Some Common course topics include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Mental health and illness
  • Personality theory
  • Drug abuse theory
  • American drug policy
  • Cultural views of substance abuse

Postgraduate Certificate in Addiction Studies

Several colleges and universities offer postgraduate certificate programs in addiction studies, which are intended for clinicians already working as counselors. These programs keep current drug and alcohol counselors abreast of developments in the field, in addition to preparing counselors from other fields for a move to substance abuse counseling. A master's degree typically is required for admission to a postgraduate certificate program. Postgraduate certificate programs in addiction studies typically include around 18 credit hours of courses. Some common course topics include:

  • Advanced group studies
  • Physiology of addiction
  • Approaches to reducing harm
  • Pharmacology update
  • Ethics and boundaries
  • Addictions and violence

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Drug counselors, also known as substance abuse counselors, rehabilitation counselors or addictions professionals, help people who are addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medicines, and other substances to become free of the physical and psychological effects of chemical dependency. Job prospects for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors were expected to grow by 31% in the decade spanning 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( As of May 2014, median annual earnings for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors were $39,270.

Continuing Education

The IC&RC has set minimum drug and alcohol counselor certification standards, which are referenced by its member boards, including 44 states. Credentials granted by the IC&RC include Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor (AODA), which requires at least 270 hours of education, 6,000 hours of work experience under professional supervision and passage of the AODA exam. Additionally, certification as an Advanced Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor (AAODA) can be achieved with a minimum of a master's degree in behavioral sciences, 2,000 hours of supervised work experience and passage of the AAODA exam.

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