Substance abuse counselors provide emotional and psychological support to those wishing to end their dependence on drugs or alcohol. Aspiring counselors can earn substance abuse counseling bachelor's degrees on campus or online. If such a program isn't available, students may pursue a behavioral health degree with a minor or concentration in addiction studies. Specialization options include addictions and alcohol/substance abuse rehabilitation. Many schools offer Bachelor of Science programs in substance abuse counseling or addiction studies, which can lead to careers as substance abuse counselors for graduates. Some graduate programs may also be available.
Substance abuse counseling bachelor's degree programs usually take four years to complete and include between 40 and 60 credit hours of required addiction studies coursework. Students usually are required to participate in field experiences or internships. Completion of programs may provide students with the skills necessary to obtain certification as addiction counselors; however, individual licensing requirements vary greatly from state to state.
Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor's Degree
Students explore the physical effects of habitual drug use on the body and study the methods used to identify the emotional traumas addiction causes drug users and their families. They also learn about foundations and theories of individual, group and family drug and alcohol counseling, as well as the physical and psychological methods of addiction treatment and prevention. Many degree programs include an applied studies component, requiring students to participate in an internship or other hands-on work experience prior to graduation. Specific topics covered in typical course curricula are as follows:
- Pharmacology and psychopharmacology
- Group counseling
- Individual counseling
- Sociology of addiction
- Psychological evaluation
- Chemical dependency diagnosis
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling is a rapidly growing field, with a growth rate of 22% projected for these counseling positions from 2014-2024. The BLS cited increased social awareness of addiction and the legal viability of treatment program completion as an alternative to jail time as possible reasons for this increase. Also per the BLS, the average annual salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $42,920 as of 2015; mental health and substance abuse social workers earned a slightly higher average salary of $47,190.
Substance abuse counseling bachelor's degree holders interested in continuing their education in addiction studies may pursue master's degree programs in the same area. According to the BLS, some states require a master's degree in order to receive licensure as a substance abuse counselor. Conversely, the BLS also reported that a bachelor's degree is generally sufficient to obtain licensing as an addictions social worker.
Even after attaining their educational, professional and licensing goals, substance abuse counselors can keep on top of the latest trends and issues in the field by joining a professional association. The National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, (NAADAC), www.naadac.org, offers frequent workshops and conferences on industry-relevant topics.
Popular Career Options
Bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling generally lead to careers as drug or alcohol counselors, although behavioral health specialists and mental health counselors are also typical job titles for bachelor's degree holders. Positions are available in government, commercial, medical, clinical or corporate settings. Substance abuse counselors may work in residential or outpatient incarnations of any of the following environments:
- Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers
- Nursing homes
- Mental health treatment centers
- Correctional facilities
Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree in the field of substance abuse will learn about the best ways to support people living with addiction issues, with the option to specialize specifically in alcohol addiction. Employment growth is generally good due to a demand for substance addiction counselors from the criminal justice system.