Addiction Counselor Degree Program Overviews

Oct 14, 2019

Students interested in becoming addiction counselors can enroll in several degree programs, including associate's and bachelor's degrees in addiction studies. Other options include a master's degree program in addiction counseling.

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Essential Information

Addiction counselors work with clients who struggle with drug addiction or alcohol abuse by providing not only counseling services, but also life management and career resources. Undergraduate programs provide students with basic studies in case management, treatment plans, prevention strategies, and addiction in adolescents. While in some cases a four-year degree is sufficient to pursue a career as an addiction counselor, substance abuse counselor, or case manager, more advanced positions, such as mental health counselor, usually call for a graduate degree.

A master's degree permits graduates to sit for the National Certified Counselor exam or Examination for Master Addictions Counselors, offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. All programs typically require a clinical practicum, with a master's degree requiring a thesis, as well.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs will require students to have a high school diploma or GED to enroll, while applicants to a master's degree program will need a bachelor's degree in psychology, counseling, or social work.

Associate of Science in Addiction Studies

In an associate's degree program, the curriculum typically covers treatment plans, client management, and the root causes of addiction, which includes childhood trauma and abuse. Coursework consists of subjects like human development, drug and alcohol dependency, and counseling practices and ethics. Students also explore counseling theories and techniques for providing ethical, professional counseling services to clients from various backgrounds and cultures. Courses in an associate's degree program can include:

  • Addiction prevention programs
  • Case management principles
  • Client assessment
  • Mental illness

Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies

Designed to prepare students for careers as addiction counselors, bachelor's degree programs incorporate the history of addiction and the source of addiction disorders in adolescents and adults. Introductory courses introduce students to the psychological and sociological influences on human behavior, while major coursework looks at addictive behaviors and methods for overcoming them.

The curriculum includes an ethics course where students learn about professionalism, moral conduct, and the ethical responsibilities of addiction counselors. Counseling courses include a discussion of various approaches to individual and group counseling, case management, and the development of treatment plans. Coursework covers a wide range of topics, from courses on counseling theories to pharmacology and statistics. Topics can include:

  • Addictive lifestyles
  • Adolescent substance abuse
  • Psychoactive substances
  • Interviewing skills
  • Recovery and relapse

Master of Science in Addiction Counseling

Curriculum covers counseling theories and the clinical practices used to treat people who struggle with substance abuse, including methods of maintaining sobriety and preventing relapse. Coursework explores the addiction counseling profession, such as licensing and certification issues, and issues involved with ethics and professionalism. Counseling courses delve into topics like individual identities, group dynamics, and client assessment. Subjects like psychopharmacology, strategies for intervention, and career counseling are covered as well. Other program topics include:

  • Addictive behavior
  • Client diversity
  • Occupational education
  • Family dynamics
  • Referral networks

Popular Career Options

Graduates often go on to careers as addiction counselors in a variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and correctional facilities. For graduates who pass state licensing exams, they can pursue a career beyond the field of addiction counseling. Employment options include:

  • Mental health counselor
  • Child and adolescent counselor
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Case manager
  • Social service assistant
  • Group counselor

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), substance abuse and mental health counselors held an estimated 116,750 jobs in the U.S. in 2018 ( The BLS also reported that employment in this profession was expected to grow by 18% between 2018 and 2028. The annual median salary for substance abuse and mental health counselors in May 2018 was $44,840.

Continuing Education

Graduates of associate's degree programs are eligible to take state credentialing exams to become licensed addiction counselors. Because licensing requirements vary by state, graduates should refer to their state licensing boards for specific requirements. Graduates might also consider enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in psychology, counseling psychology, or addiction studies.

To improve their career outlook and boost salary expectations, bachelor's degree program graduates can enroll in a variety of graduate programs. A Master of Science in Counseling Psychology prepares students to take state licensing exams that result in receiving the Licensed Professional Counselor designation (LPC). Other education options include graduate certificates in addiction studies and a master's degree program in psychology.

Graduates of master's degree programs who have at least 3,000 hours of counseling experience are eligible to sit for the National Certified Counselor exam, offered through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Furthermore, graduates with three years of counseling experience can take the NBCC examination for Master Addictions Counselors (MAC), which results in national certification. Certified counselors must complete 100 hours of continuing education credits every five years to maintain certification.

Earning an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree related to addiction counseling equips students with the skills to help addicts determine the cause of their addiction and find proper treatment for their issues. Most states will require graduates to earn licensure to practice, with professional certification and related degree programs available to improve their employability and job mobility.

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