Drug Counselor Job Description

Mar 25, 2019

Career Definition for a Drug Counselor

Drug counselors help people who have substance abuse issues recover from their addictions and live a healthier lifestyle. They meet with clients individually or in groups and try to find the root causes of patients' addictions and come up with treatment plans to help them quit using drugs and alcohol. Drug counselors often work with their patients' families to help manage the issues caused by addiction. Job duties can include evaluating a client's mental and physical health, reviewing treatment options, and developing outreach programs.

Required Education A master's degree for most positions, but some will accept a bachelor's degree; licensure required in many states
Job Duties Evaluating client mental and physical health, reviewing treatment options
Median Salary (2017)* $43,300 (substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 23% growth (substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Most drug counseling positions require a master's degree, but some employers are willing to hire candidates with bachelor's degrees. People interested in becoming drug counselors should take classes such as psychology, sociology, addiction theory, counseling, and social work. In addition to a master's degree, many states have additional unique licensure criteria for a private practice counselor, which includes 2,000 to 4,000 hours of clinical experience and passing a state-recognized test. To maintain certification, you must complete continuing education units.

Skills Needed

Successful drug counselors need to have stellar communication skills and must be able to gain the respect and trust of their patients. They should also possess patience, empathy, and tolerance.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, predicted that an increased emphasis on treatment rather than prison for drug offenders would create job growth of about 23% for drug counselors from 2016-2026. The yearly salary for drug counselors varies widely based on employer, location, education, and experience, but colleges, universities, and professional schools usually pay the most. The BLS reported the median annual salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors as $43,300 in May 2017.

Alternative Careers

Here are some examples of alternate career choices:

Social Worker

Although there are social workers who help individuals with substance abuse issues, other job responsibilities include assessing physical, emotional and financial needs, locating community and government resources that may help, creating plans to improve situations and following up to determine what is working. Licensed clinical social workers can also provide mental health counseling services. Direct-service positions may only require a bachelor's degree in social work, sociology or psychology, but for clinical social work, a master's degree and licensure is the minimum requirement. Licensure includes a mix of education and supervised clinical experience. According to the BLS, all types of social workers should expect a 16% increase in job opportunities during the 2016-2026 decade. In May of 2015, the BLS stated that mental health and substance abuse social workers received a median yearly wage of $47,980.


For those who want to provide more complex treatment to people with emotional problems and addictions, becoming a psychologist may be the right choice. Basing their treatment on scientific theories and practices, psychologists analyze mental health problems, provide counseling and solution ideas, administer tests, create treatment plans and study the causes of human behavior. To work in a counseling, clinical or research setting, a psychologist will have to earn a doctorate degree. School and organizational psychologists may be able to find employment with only a master's. Independently practicing psychologists will need to obtain licensure, which includes completing a set number of work hours in the field and passing an exam. The BLS estimated that clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned a median salary of $75,090 in 2017. The psychologist profession should see a growth rate of 14% between 2016 and 2026.

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