Drug Rehabilitation Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Sep 29, 2019

Degrees related to drug rehabilitation typically involve psychology or social work. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for graduates.

A career in drug rehabilitation requires a bachelor's degree and may require a license or certification and additional training. Drug rehabilitation careers include social workers, counselors, and registered nurses.

Essential Information

While social workers specializing in substance abuse must possess at least a bachelor's degree in social work or psychology to enter the drug rehabilitation field, nurses need only to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN) in the state they work. Substance abuse counselors face the most requirements, generally needing a master's degree as well as additional experience working in a drug rehabilitation setting.

Career Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors Registered Nurses
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Master's degree and experience RN licensure
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 11% 22% 12%
Median Salary (2018)* $44,840 $44,630 $71,730

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Careers in drug rehabilitation can include registered nurses as well as social workers and substance abuse counselors. See below for more information on the roles these positions play in the drug rehabilitation field.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Counselors help those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction by supporting and treating the client through their rehabilitation process. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are expected to grow at an above-average rate of 22% from 2018-2028, while the median salary of counselors in 2018 was $44,630.

Substance Abuse Social Worker

Social workers are trained to provide a variety of services that help improve the lives of the disadvantaged. Substance abuse social workers provide services similar to a counselor, including group therapy session. A social working my also focus on social rehabilitation, the process of integrating clients back into a social life following cessation of an addiction or discharge from a treatment facility.

The median annual wage for mental health and substance abuse social workers in 2018 was $44,840, according to the BLS. At that time, outpatient care centers employed the most of these workers, though the highest salaries were found in the offices of health practitioners. The BLS projects a 11% employment increase for mental health and substance abuse social workers between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average.

Substance Abuse Nurse

These registered nurses often provide support to drug rehabilitation clinics with an intimate knowledge of the effect of drug withdrawal and use. Typically these types of nurses administer select medications that ease the withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict seeking treatment. These nurses generally follow guidelines put forth by the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM), but traditional nursing programs generally do not offer substance abuse specializations.

The BLS does not report specifically on substance abuse nurses, but the overall registered nursing field is expected to experience a much faster than average job growth of 12% from 2018-2028, according to BLS projections. BLS data from 2018 indicated a median annual salary of $71,730 for registered nurses at that time.


Requirements for entry into the field of drug rehabilitation vary significantly according to the desired position. Substance abuse nurses generally only need to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN) in the state they wish to work; however, some positions will require the completion of a specialized associate's degree as well. Social workers specializing in substance abuse must possess at least a bachelor's degree in social work or, in rare instances, a related field such as psychology. A master's degree and additional clinical experience in a substance abuse facility are generally required for employment as a substance abuse counselor.

The BLS predicts faster-than-average job growth for substance abuse social workers, substance abuse counselors, and registered nurses from 2018-2028. Those interested in pursuing a career as a social worker or counselor may complete a bachelor's degree program in social work or psychology. A master's degree or license may be recommended or required. Registered nurses may also need to take additional training to specialize in drug rehabilitation.

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