Substance Abuse Counselor College Program Information

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensure requirements for substance abuse counselors vary by state. Enrollment in undergraduate programs usually requires a high school diploma or GED equivalent, along with college entrance exams, while students will need a relevant bachelor's degree to enroll in master's programs.

Essential Information

Depending on the state, substance abuse counselors will need varying levels of certification to practice. Some may be able to practice after earning only a high school diploma and obtaining professional certification, while others may need an associate's, bachelor's, or even a master's degree in order to set up a private practice.

  • Program levels in Substance Abuse Counseling: Education Certificate, Associate's Degree, Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree.
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma/GED and college entrance exams for education certificate, associate's degree, and bachelor's degree programs. A bachelor's degree in substance abuse or a related field is required for master's degree programs. Some master's programs also require formal letters of intention from prospective students.
  • Online Availability: Courses not commonly found online.
  • Other Requirements: Internships may be required for certificate program.

Substance Abuse Counseling Education Certificate

A substance abuse counseling education certificate program is designed to prepare students to educate others about alcohol and drug abuse counseling programs and treatment. Students are trained to work with either adults or children. Students in a substance abuse counseling education certificate program can expect to complete an internship in human services. They might also take the following courses:

  • Substance abuse counseling practices
  • Addiction and prevention treatment procedures
  • Case management for substance abuse counselors
  • Psychology of substance abuse counseling
  • Drug use and abuse

Associate's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Associate's degree programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students to enter human services careers and assist people who are coping with the effects of substance abuse. Upon graduating from such a program, students are often eligible to take licensure examinations to become substance abuse counselors. Students can expect to take classes in the following topics:

  • Alcohol counseling
  • Drug addiction counseling
  • Family counseling for the substance abuse-affected
  • Abnormal psychological behavior
  • Substance abuse in youth culture
  • Individual assessment and substance abuse case management

Bachelor's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

A bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling program is designed to prepare the student to work in the addiction recovery services field. Students learn to assess, diagnose and treat patients struggling with addiction and substance abuse, and how to apply counseling techniques to individuals and groups in substance abuse situations. Students will also learn to design and provide abuse recovery programs and supply individuals and their families with chemical dependency information. A typical curriculum for a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling may include classes that cover:

  • Substance abuse fundamentals and prevention
  • Drugs' effects on the central nervous system
  • Family dynamics with regard to substance abuse
  • Personal assessment and evaluation in substance abuse counseling
  • Individual substance abuse counseling techniques
  • Group substance abuse counseling techniques

Master's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Some states, including Vermont and Massachusetts, require students to have a master's degree before they can become licensed substance abuse counselors and practice independently. Master's degree programs in substance abuse counseling emphasize leadership, public policy, management and human services. Students should expect to take the following classes that cover assessment strategies in substance abuse counseling:

  • Rehabilitation procedures in substance abuse counseling
  • Human growth and development in relation to substance abuse
  • Preventing substance abuse
  • Group theory in substance abuse counseling
  • Substance abuse counseling regarding families
  • Substance abuse counseling lifestyle and career assessment

Popular Career Options

Students who are graduating from a substance abuse counseling education certificate program may be able to transfer their college credits to a higher degree program. Those immediately entering the workforce might pursue the following careers:

  • Juvenile group home substance abuse educator
  • Homeless shelter addiction educator
  • Entry-level human services worker

Graduates of substance abuse counseling associate's degree programs can work as group therapy facilitators. They can also work as substance abuse counselor assistants or coordinators.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted a faster than average job growth outlook of 31% for substance abuse counselors between 2012 and 2022 ( Additionally, in a May 2014 report, the BLS listed the median annual salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors as $39,270.

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