Alcohol Counseling: Job Duties & Requirements

Research the educational and skill requirements needed to become an alcohol abuse counselor, as well as the job description and employment and salary outlook. Read on to decide if this career is right for you.

Career Definition for an Alcohol Counselor

Alcohol counseling is a specialization within the broader field of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling. Alcohol counselors work with patients who have an addiction to alcohol and are attempting to enter or maintain recovery. They may work at residential treatment centers, outpatient clinics, social service agencies or outreach agencies. Typical duties of alcohol counselors include assessing patients, helping to create treatment protocols, monitoring patients and making referrals for further treatment. They also may hold personal or group counseling sessions.

Alcohol counselors typically work full time, although they may work nights and weekends as needed to care for clients. They often develop treatment plans in conjunction with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and social workers. Some alcohol counselors specialize in certain types of patients, such as teenagers; they may also help stage interventions.

Required Education Varies by facility and state; on the job training, associate's and bachelor's degrees available
Job Duties Include assessing patients, helping create treatment protocols, monitoring patients, making referrals
Median Salary (2017)* $43,300 (all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 23% growth (all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Educational requirements for alcohol counselors vary depending on the type of facility and capacity in which they work; additionally, each state has its own requirements. Generally, an associate's or bachelor's degree and relevant work experience in a field like substance abuse counseling, social/behavioral science or social work can qualify alcohol counselors; on-the-job training may also be available. Common courses in a relevant 2- or 4-year program include theories of substance abuse, principles of substance abuse counseling and basics of mental health counseling.

Licensing Requirements

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors must earn licensure in most states, although specific requirements vary. The licensure process may involve earning a relevant degree and completing an exam. Counselors who work in private practices must have a master's degree, complete several thousand hours of clinical experience and pass an exam to obtain the necessary licensure. Continuing education is also required.

Required Skills

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that alcohol counselors must have the following traits:

  • Thorough knowledge of treatment strategies, available resources and common roadblocks for recovering alcoholics
  • Communicative, compassionate and patient personalities, even under difficult circumstances
  • Ability to deal with high levels of stress and potentially insufficient treatment resources when assisting a large number of clients

Employment and Salary Outlook

The BLS projected that employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, which included alcohol counselors, would grow by 23% from 2016-2026 as offenders continue to be directed to treatment rather than to prison. The median annual salary in 2017 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $43,300.

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