Be an Alcoholic Counselor: Education and Career Roadmap

Apr 29, 2020

Learn how to become an alcoholic counselor. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information, and experience required for starting a career in alcohol counseling.

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Should I Be an Alcoholic Counselor?

Alcoholic counselors, also called substance abuse counselors, help people to cease abusing alcohol and cope with the problems their addiction may have caused. These counselors create recovery programs for clients and help them learn healthy behaviors. They also help identify circumstances or habits interfering with recovery, educate family members on ways to cope with person dealing with addiction, and refer clients to support groups and job placement programs. This work may be stressful, with large workloads, not enough resources, and sometimes having to deal with agitated clients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Varies from high school diploma to master's degree, depending on the state and work setting
Degree Field Counseling, psychology, social work, or related field
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required to work in private practice; certifications are available
Experience 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience typically required for licensure
Key Skills Compassion and patience, as well as strong listening, speaking, and people skills
Salary $39,341 per year (2020 median salary for substance abuse counselors)*

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *

Steps to Be an Alcoholic Counselor

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While in some states entry-level positions are available to individuals with a high school diploma, earning a bachelor's degree is often the first step toward working as an alcohol counselor under less supervision. Some schools offer programs in substance abuse counseling or addiction studies. Students in these programs may wish to concentrate their studies in psychology, counseling, or social work and complete elective courses in substance abuse counseling, if possible.

Aspiring alcohol counselors can benefit from volunteering at a local rehabilitation clinic, out-patient program, or detox center. Volunteering provides students with hands-on experience working with individuals suffering from alcoholism and allows them to learn new or apply previously learned counseling skills to help others.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Though states requirements vary, a master's degree is required to work as a private practice counselor. Counselors can earn a master's degree specifically in substance abuse counseling, a related field such as psychology or social work, and supplement their education with a graduate certificate in substance abuse counseling. Graduate-level programs typically cover a variety of topics related to addiction, including professional skills for addiction counselors, mind-body techniques, family counseling, and the psychology of addiction.

Participating in an internship helps alcohol counselors acquire the clinical experience they need for licensure. It also helps them learn new counseling approaches and techniques. An internship may be required to graduate from some master's degree programs.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure

Alcoholic counselors working in private practices must meet state licensure requirements. Specific education and training requirements for licensure differ by state and work setting. Individuals can refer to the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) to access contact information for their state. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that typical requirements for licensure include possessing a master's degree, completing 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, and passing an exam.

Step 4: Consider Becoming Certified

Counselors may seek voluntary certification to improve their job prospects through organizations such as the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). The NAADAC offers the National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) Level I and Level II designations. Both designations require documentation of current state licensure or certification as a substance abuse counselor and 6,000 supervised hours or three years of full-time work experience. Level II candidates do not need to pass a new exam, as a passing score on the Level I exam is sufficient. The NAADAC also offers the Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) designation. In addition to a current state license or certification and supervised or full-time work experience requirements, candidates for the MAC must have a master's degree and pass an exam.

Step 5: Continue Education

Many states and organizations require counselors to complete continuing education to renew licensure or certification. Continuing education requirements may be completed in the form of workshops, graduate classes, online courses, or individual studies.

Alcohol addiction or substance abuse counselors might be able to find entry-level opportunities with a high school diploma, though a bachelor's or master's degree in counseling or a related field might be needed as well as licensure for those wishing to work in private practice.

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