Career Information for a Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Sep 24, 2019

Degrees in substance abuse counseling typically cover how to treat individuals addicted to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Find out about the requirements of these programs and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for substance abuse counseling graduates.

There are a number of professions in the field of substance abuse counseling, each with different education and professional requirements that can vary from state to state. At a minimum, certification is required, with licensure coming into the picture as education requirements and job responsibilities increase.

Essential Information

A degree program in substance abuse counseling is designed to prepare students for a variety of careers related to drug and alcohol abuse treatment. Graduates of substance abuse counseling or similar degree programs might find work as substance abuse counselors or, with further education, clinical psychologists or social workers.

Career Substance Abuse Counselor Clinical Psychologist Social Worker
Education Requirements High school diploma or equivalent Doctorate Master's degree
Other Requirements Certification State licensure State licensure
Job Growth (2018-2028) 22% (for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors) * 15% (for all clinical, counseling and school psychologists)* 18% (for all mental health and substance abuse social workers)*
Mean Annual Wage (2018) $47,920 (for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)* $85,340 (for all clinical, counseling and school psychologists )* $49,630 (for all mental health and substance abuse social workers)*

Source: *U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Information

Offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, degree programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students for careers in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, therapy and education. Courses in these programs cover topics like counseling theory, addictive behaviors, counseling program development, research methods, psychopharmacology and substance abuse prevention. Degree programs often include an internship, practicum or clinical experience components. Graduates of master's degree programs are usually eligible for state certification or licensing.

Substance Abuse Counseling Career Options

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors are employed by health agencies, community programs and private clinics to assist patients and clients in overcoming problems related to substance abuse. They use techniques such as group and individual therapy. Counselors develop treatment plans in consultation with other healthcare professionals, monitor patient progress and assist in rehabilitation. They also help patients' families cope with addiction.

Requirements and Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), education and license requirements for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors vary widely from state to state. Though many states require a master's degree, others may require as little as a high school education and certification. The BLS estimated rapid job growth in this field, with employment expected to increase 22% between 2018 and 2028. In May 2018, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a mean annual wage of $47,920.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists assess, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients whose negative patterns of thought and behavior interfere with everyday life. They work in a variety of settings, including private practice clinics, hospitals, community health centers, drug rehabilitation centers and academic institutions. Clinical psychologists implement intervention plans, behavior modification therapies and other treatments based on interviews and discussions with clients and their families.

Requirements and Career Information

The BLS states that clinical, counseling and school psychologists are generally required to earn doctorates and acquire state licenses before they can practice. Employment of these professionals is expected to increase 15% from 2018-2028, which is well above average. The mean annual wage for these professionals was $85,340 in May 2018.

Social Worker

Social workers who focus on substance abuse issues typically work for in-patient or out-patient substance abuse programs, hospitals or government agencies. These workers provide many of the same services as drug abuse counselors and psychologists, but they are more likely to work with disadvantaged clients and populations such as minorities, the elderly or children. Social workers lead group and individual therapy sessions, provide client advocacy, counsel family members to assist in recovery and help individuals readjust to the demands of everyday life.

Requirements and Career Information

The BLS notes that social workers in substance abuse treatment settings generally need master's degrees in social work in order to become licensed. Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to increase 18% from 2018-2028, which is due in part to increasing tendencies for judges to send substance abusers to counseling programs rather than prison. Professionals in the field of mental health and substance abuse social work earned a mean annual wage of $49,630 in May 2018, according to the BLS.

Employment opportunities in the field of substance abuse counseling are projected to increase at a much faster rate than the average national rate for all occupations. Though state requirements may differ, in some states you can secure a position as a certified substance abuse counselor with a high school diploma or GED. It is more common, however, that professionals such as social workers and psychologists hold a master's degree or doctorate and state licensure.

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