Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees by Program Level

Oct 11, 2019

Substance abuse counseling degree programs at the associate's and master's degree level are viable options for mental health counselors or rehabilitation specialists, as well as those having an interest in helping addicts and their families.

Essential Information

Bachelor's degree programs for psychology touch upon substance abuse counseling, but generally provide a more comprehensive overview of the mental health profession. Associate's degree programs in substance abuse cover substance use and abuse theories, counseling techniques, group dynamics, and client management, as well as include supervised work experience.

At the master's level students participate in a clinical practicum providing them with experience working with groups, individuals, and families. Some programs are available in a flexible format. Graduates hold senior-level positions in substance abuse counseling.

A high school diploma or GED certificate is required for admission to an associate's degree program. Colleges give favorable consideration to applicants with prior high school courses in psychology and social studies. Students earn a related bachelor's degree with a grade point average of 2.75 or better to be eligible to enroll in a substance abuse counseling master's program.

Associate's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Associate's degree programs train aspiring practitioners to perform treatment services at a very basic level, preparing them for further schooling at the postsecondary level. The curriculum combines classroom study in psychology, counseling methods, and addiction theory with supervised work experience. An associate's degree is earned in two years; degree-holders are eligible to take the Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor exam.

Associate's degree programs are divided into a liberal arts component and subject-specific courses. Courses related to substance abuse counseling discuss:

  • Use, abuse and addiction theory
  • Counseling and interviewing techniques
  • Multicultural and special populations counseling

Master's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Master's degree programs provide extensive exploration into drug abuse and addiction psychology, and the current state of treatment research, as well as public policy and counseling program management. Participants sharpen their counseling skills by taking part in a clinical practicum; portions take place in individual, group, and family settings. Some programs are designed to extend or complement the knowledge of established mental health or rehabilitation counselors, and scheduling options allow participants to fit classes into their work schedules. Students earn a master's degree in two years.

Schools structure master's degree programs around core courses in counseling while offering electives for program management, professional ethics, or the effects of addiction on families. At the graduate level, a substance abuse counseling program addresses:

  • Addiction prevention
  • Addiction program management
  • Abuse and addiction research
  • U.S. drug control policy
  • Counseling and human development

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Earning a master's degree in substance abuse counseling qualifies graduates to work as a senior-level substance abuse counselor in hospitals, mental health clinics and crisis centers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, predicts that the employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will increase 22% from 2018-2028. The justice system's move toward placing drug offenders in treatment instead of prison, along with wider public awareness about addiction and the value of counseling, are among the factors credited with driving growth. According to the BLS, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned median salaries of $44,630 as of May 2018.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates can enhance their professional standing or improve their employment prospects by ultimately earning a master's degree in substance abuse counseling. However, they first have to earn a bachelor's degree. Baccalaureate programs in substance abuse counseling are extremely rare, but transfer options into psychology, human services or addiction studies programs may be available.

Professional substance abuse counselors who want to conduct academic research or teach at the postsecondary level can consider earning a doctorate. Ph.D. programs are available in counseling psychology or substance abuse and mental health.

Individuals interested in becoming a licensed substance abuse counselor may pursue an associate's degree in the field prior to sitting for the licensure exam. Additionally, professionals interested in a managerial position may seek a master's degree in substance abuse counseling after earning a related bachelor's degree.

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