Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor: Job Description and Requirements

Sep 16, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Drug and alcohol counselors must be licensed by the state. The requirements vary greatly by state and may include only a high school education, but can include a bachelor's or master's degree. Licensing usually requires meeting the educational requirements and passing an exam.

Essential Information

Licensed drug and alcohol counselors are professionally trained to assist people in overcoming substance abuse problems. They may provide counseling to addicts as a stand-alone therapy, as well as during or after rehabilitation treatments. Addicts are often counseled in groups, but individual counseling sessions may also be offered. Licensure requirements vary significantly from state to state and so do education requirements for this career field. In some states, a high school diploma and on-the-job training is enough for licensure, whereas other states require professionals to hold master's degrees. Other licensure requirements often include completing state-designated training programs and passing state-approved licensing exams. A strong desire to help others and the ability to withstand emotional stress are necessary ingredients for success in this career.

Required Education Varies by position, duties, and state requirements
Other Requirements Fulfill educational and training requirements for licensure; pass licensure exam
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 22% of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors*
Average Salary (2018) $42,920 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description

Licensed drug and alcohol counselors deal with individuals who may be addicted to alcohol and/or prescription or illegal drugs. Counselors monitor their clients' progress by taking notes and making reports throughout the course of treatment. Because substance abuse problems affect more than just the individual, counselors may also provide support to friends and family members. They may work with other health care professionals to determine the optimal treatment plan and find ongoing support for an addict upon release from treatment, such as a 12-step program.

Job Requirements

While mental health counselors in general need to possess at least a master's degree in order to become licensed, licensure for drug and alcohol counselors depends on the state. Some states may only require a high school education and certification. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential, as well as specialty certifications such as the Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) credential (

To earn the NCC credential, candidates must complete a certain amount of relevant coursework, pass an exam and possess counseling experience. For the MAC credential, candidates must first already have earned the NCC credential and then complete coursework, pass an exam and possess counseling experience relevant to the topic of addiction.

Even if postsecondary education is not required for licensure in one's chosen state, it is a good foundation from which to start a counseling career. Colleges offer certificate and associate degree programs in substance abuse counseling, which may include courses in the science of addiction, sociology and general counseling. For those who wish to pursue additional education, earning a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology may be a helpful option to consider.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling positions were predicted to grow much faster than the average through 2028. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $72,990 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $28,240 or less per year.

Licensed drug and alcohol counselors work with patients recovering from alcoholism or drug addition. They may work individually with patients or in group settings, and they may also offer counseling to the families of patients. About 304,500 substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors were employed in 2018, whereas employment of nearly 373,100 is anticipated for 2028.

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