Substance Abuse Counseling Certification and Certificate Programs

Research the curriculum of undergraduate and graduate certificates in substance abuse counseling. To decide if this program level is a fit for you, get information on requirements, courses, career prospects and salary.

Essential Information

Individuals who've completed high school and aspire to become licensed and certified substance abuse counselors may consider an undergraduate certificate program in the field, while a bachelor's or master's degree may be required for graduate certificate programs.

Both programs highlight the different methods used to counsel individuals who are working through addiction, but students are also exposed to research and clinical practice. State law differs on whether substance abuse counselors need to be licensed or certified (which requires continuing education). Graduates of these programs may work as counselors, but can also aspire to management and specialist positions within the field.

Substance Abuse Counseling Undergraduate Certificate

Undergraduate certificate programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students for substance abuse counseling careers by teaching them about addictions, dependency evaluation, counseling methods and the latest research regarding drugs and alcohol. Many private and public colleges and universities offer the certificate program.

Education Prerequisites

Each program sets its own admission requirements. Programs generally require students to possess a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some programs require students to have earned college credits or be concurrently enrolled in a bachelor's degree program.

Course Topics

Students learn how to assess, treat and advise individuals and groups dealing with substance abuse. Students may also be educated about communicable diseases, eating disorders and domestic violence, which are sometimes associated with substance abuse. Internships or clinical experience is required for some certificate programs. Classes may include:

  • Psychology
  • Individual counseling
  • Group and family counseling
  • Counseling methods
  • Addiction studies
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Procedures used in counseling

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor jobs would increase by 21% between 2008 and 2018 ( One factor influencing this faster than average job growth is that more people convicted of drug crimes are being sent to substance abuse facilities instead of jail. In May 2010, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a median annual income of $38,120, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education

Certification and licensure for substance abuse counselors varies from state to state and is required in some states and voluntary in others. Typical eligibility requirements include meeting minimum education and professional experience standards and passing an examination. Most states have multiple levels of certification available. For example, a level one substance abuse counselor certification designation usually indicates that the individual meets the lowest educational and work experience requirements. Continuing education is required to maintain some certifications.

Students may wish to further their studies by enrolling in a substance abuse counseling degree program. Some schools allow credits from the undergraduate certificate program in substance abuse counseling to transfer toward a relevant degree.

Graduate Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance abuse counseling graduate certificate programs teach students graduate-level knowledge regarding substance abuse and prevention. Students can also learn about the latest substance abuse research, acquire counseling skills and gain knowledge about ethical standards. Graduate programs often prepare students for state licensing exams. Many private and public colleges offer graduate certificates in substance abuse counseling.

Prerequisite Education

A bachelor's degree is typically required for admission into a graduate certificate program. However, some programs only accept students with a master's degree in counseling, social work or a related field or who are working toward earning one.

Course Topics

Students participate in classroom lectures, and many programs also require students to demonstrate their proficiency through participation in field experiences. Typical classes may include:

  • Psychopathology
  • Substance abuse counseling methods
  • Assessment of substance abuse problems
  • Substance addiction studies
  • Chemical dependency

Popular Career Choices

Individuals can acquire advanced positions within the substance abuse counseling field or use the certificate program to shift from a different counseling area. Some potential careers include:

  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Substance abuse educator
  • Drug and alcohol treatment specialist
  • Case manager

Continuing Education

Students can receive more in-depth knowledge, research opportunities and clinical training by enrolling in a master's degree program in substance abuse counseling or a related field. Many graduate certificate programs allow students to apply their credits to relevant master's degree programs.

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