Substance and Alcohol Abuse Studies: Education Program Information

Oct 14, 2019

There are both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as well as graduate certificates, available in substance and alcohol abuse for those who wish to become counselors. They train to assist people with addiction problems, as well as their families.

Essential Information

Associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees and graduate certificates are some common program options in substance and alcohol abuse studies. Internships with treatment facilities and counseling agencies are often available as part of this training. Admission to associate's and bachelor's programs usually entails prior completion of high school or GED, while graduate certificate programs only admit bachelor's degree holders and sometimes require experience in a related human services field. Licensure or certification may be necessary for substance abuse counselors, though licensure requirements vary widely by state. Professional certification is available through a few different organizations for individuals who meet educational and experience requirements.

Associate's Degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies

These programs may result in a variety of degree titles, ranging from an Associate of Arts to Associate of Applied Science. However, the curriculum is essentially the same, because they all teach the basics of chemical dependency and treatment methods to those seeking entry-level careers in the field. This type of training is sometimes offered as a concentration within human services associate's degree programs. Education in this area includes both general education courses and courses specific to chemical dependency, human development and counseling. It may also include a supervised practicum or internship opportunity. Sample course topics are:

  • Foundations in human services, such as family counseling
  • Chemical dependency basics
  • Relapse prevention
  • Basic helping skills
  • Ethics for helping professionals

Bachelor of Science in Drug and Alcohol Abuse Studies

These are 4-year programs that explore the reasons behind addictions along with the community health problems that result from addiction. Some programs offer tracks specifically in treatment involving more counseling coursework, or in prevention, which focuses on public health and education. These programs might touch upon such related subjects as gambling and sex addiction. When substance abuse is not available as a major, it may be available as a concentration within human services programs. No specific prerequisites are usually required beyond having a high school diploma or its equivalent, along with an interest in helping people and satisfactory standardized test scores. Courses contain several general education classes--such as math, science, and English--as well as specialized coursework on topics including:

  • Mental health issues
  • Drug abuse prevention education
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Legal and ethical issues for substance abuse professionals
  • Skills for coping with addiction

Graduate Certificate in Substance and Alcohol Abuse Studies

These programs may be an attractive option for someone in a related field, such as social work or counseling, who now wants to specialize in substance and alcohol abuse. A bachelor's degree is required, preferably, in a related field. These programs are typically brief and involve advanced study in substance and alcohol abuse. Some programs may entail an internship. Courses may include:

  • Overview of drug and alcohol abuse studies
  • Preventing abuse
  • Contributing factors
  • Treatment of substance and alcohol abuse
  • The recovery process
  • Group and family counseling

Certification and Licensing Information

Licensing requirements for substance abuse counselors may vary greatly depending on the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which goes on to explain that in some states, substance abuse counselors may be governed by a different agency than other counselors. Many states have several levels of licensure and certification; in some cases, a high school diploma may be all that's required.

Because of the disparity, the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium involves member-states and offers international credentials to make it a more unified field. An associate's degree counts toward 1,000 of the required 6,000 hours of supervised work experience needed for the Alcohol and Drug Counselor credential. Those seeking certification must pass an exam.

The National Certification Commission, a certifying agency of the NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, has a basic-level certification credential for individuals who have at least one year of experience as a substance abuse professional (along with a certain amount of training or formal education as well as successful passage of an exam). This organization also offers certificate programs in specialized areas such as adolescent specialist and caregiver for addicts and families.

Certification Options

The National Certification Commission, a division of NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, offers National Certified Addiction Counselor Level I and Level II credentials. Both require applicants to hold a current license as a substance abuse counselor, prove a certain amount of work experience and pass an exam. The Level II certification is available to those who have a bachelor's degree from an accredited school.

In addition to its Alcohol and Drug Counselor credential, the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium offers certification programs including Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Clinical Supervisor and Prevention Specialist. All involve qualified candidates to successfully pass an exam.

Popular Career Options

Those who earn this associate degree are prepared for entry-level jobs as substance-abuse counselor associates or assistants, but there are other options as well. Possible job titles include:

  • Criminal justice treatment assistant
  • Human service worker, social worker, or crisis worker
  • Counselor aide or psychologist
  • Case manager
  • Medical doctor
  • Teacher
  • Human resources manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors to increase by 22% during the 2018-2028 decade, much faster than the national average. The median annual salary nationwide for a substance abuse and behavioral disorders counselor was $41,070 as of May 2018, according to the BLS (

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Certificate-holders may qualify for Master Addiction Counselor certification from the National Certification Commission. In addition to successfully passing an exam, applicants must have a certain amount of work experience and a fairly good amount of education, such as a relevant master's degree. This certificate is often earned consecutive or complementary to a related master's degree, such as in psychology or social work.

For those who want to help substance and alcohol abusers and their families, a degree or graduate certificate program is the best path forward to becoming a counselor. These programs provide valuable training and preparation for licensure. With a very high job growth rate, this is a career area with excellent prospects for employment.

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