Substance Abuse Counselor Career Options and Employment Outlook

Substance abuse counselors require some formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Substance abuse counselors work with recovering addicts and others overcoming substance abuse, through talk-therapy, counseling sessions and referrals. Aspiring substance abuse counselors have the option of working in hospitals, halfway houses, clinics, penitentiaries and many other places. These counselors can expect strong job prospects over the next decade.

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Essential Information

Substance abuse counselors help patients form personal recovery plans to overcome addictions. Their duties include counseling patients and referring them to other services, such as rehabilitation clinics, family agencies and psychiatrists. In most cases, such counselors hold at least a baccalaureate degree in a field related to counseling. State licensing is required, though certification is voluntary.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in human services, social work, psychology or a related field
Other Requirements Licensure required in most states; voluntary certification available through the Association for Addiction Professionals or the National Board for Certified Counselors
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*
Median Salary (2015) $39,980 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors help patients who are struggling with substance abuse addiction, providing them with vocational training to help them transition back into a normal lifestyle. Counselors conduct both group and private sessions and crisis interventions. They also support family and friends of those who have loved ones affected by addiction.

Substance abuse counselors must complete a bachelor's degree in a field related to human or social services, such as social work, psychology, human services or psychiatric medicine. In addition, counselors are typically required to have at least two years of relevant experience, such as counseling in another field or volunteer work.

Many states require licensure for substance abuse counselors, which may require occasional continuing education coursework. Many counselors obtain certification from a professional organization, such as the Association for Addiction Professionals or the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Career Options

Substance abuse counselors work in many different areas of the social services community. Many work in hospitals or clinics, particularly those that specialize in substance abuse. Others work in halfway houses, shelters, social services offices or penitentiaries to help addicts who are recovering from addiction. Counselors can work both independently or as part of a team. Experienced counselors, particularly those with graduate education, may go on to become counselor educators or supervisors.

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for substance abuse counselors are expected to grow faster than the national average for all jobs and faster than counseling jobs in general. The BLS projected a 22% increase projected from 2014 to 2024. This increase may be due to a high rate of burnout within this particular branch of counseling in addition to more people seeking help for their addictions and other behaviors. Many counselors see patients with a high rate of setbacks and work with patients who are also dealing with homelessness or illnesses such as AIDS and hepatitis. The median annual salary for substance abuse counselors in 2015 was $39,980, with counselors employed by schools, educational support services and other ambulatory care facilities averaging more than $50,000 a year, according to the BLS.

A variety of career options are available for future substance abuse counselors, and strong growth is expected in this field. Each of these options comes with its own rewards, and its up to you to find the one that's most appealing and does the best at meeting your individual needs.

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