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Graduate Degree Programs in Substance Abuse Counseling: Program Options

Graduate programs in substance abuse counseling teach students how to treat various addiction problems. These graduate programs prepare students to become substance abuse counselors, researchers, clinical administrators and educators.

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Essential Information

In graduate programs in substance abuse counseling, students learn to treat addictions to a variety of vices, including alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceuticals and gambling. A couple prerequisites for two-year master's programs include a bachelor's degree and a background in statistics, research methods and general psychology. A master's degree in counseling or a related mental health field and professional experience is often required for admission into a doctoral program. Master's programs are more clinically-focused, while doctoral programs focus heavily on research and require completion of a dissertation for graduation. In most states, at least a master's degree is required to obtain licensure or certification in substance abuse counseling.


Master's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Master's programs in substance abuse counseling are typically a combination of coursework and fieldwork. Some programs offer a degree in general counseling with a concentration option in addiction and substance abuse, while other programs focus solely on substance abuse. They'll prepare you to evaluate individual needs, create treatment plans and work in group counseling sessions to help people who have substance abuse problems.

Substance abuse counseling often relates to more than just the addiction itself. Coursework typically covers a wide range of counseling practices and mental health subjects, including:

  • Evaluation and treatment of addictions
  • Abused substances
  • Detoxification techniques
  • Group counseling exercises
  • Trauma and grief therapy
  • Family counseling

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Doctoral Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Concentrations or specializations in substance abuse or drug addiction counseling can be found in counseling education or counseling psychology Ph.D. programs. Often, these programs are research-based and geared towards preparing you to assume administrative roles, teach at the postgraduate level, establish a private practice or become a counseling educator. Doctoral degrees in counseling can take two to five years to complete and often include at least a year's worth of monitored fieldwork.

Doctoral programs generally consist of core studies, research and statistical analysis. You'll typically be required to perform a specific number of hours in substance abuse counseling in settings such as hospitals, mental health facilities and clinics. Coursework can include:

  • Theoretical counseling practices
  • Ethics, laws and professional behavior
  • Drug and alcohol counseling
  • Relationships and family dynamics
  • Diagnosis and treatment plans
  • Statistical data and research documentation

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2015 median salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $39,980. The BLS predicted that between 2014 and 2024, employment opportunities for these counselors would increase by 22%, due in part to a growing trend in the judicial system to send substance abusers to treatment rather than jail. According to Payscale.com, in 2015 the median annual salary for clinical directors in residential substance abuse facilities was $63,434.

Individuals wanting to become substance abuse counselors may earn the minimal education requirement of a master's degree in substance abuse counseling. However, those seeking administrative positions in residential substance abuse facilities or careers in academia need to have a doctorate in substance abuse counseling.

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