Substance Abuse Counseling Certification and Certificate Programs

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Individuals interested in becoming substance abuse counselors may consider an undergraduate certificate program in the field, while a bachelor's or master's degree may be required for graduate certificate programs.

Programs at all levels highlight the different methods used to counsel individuals who are working through addiction, while also exposing students to research, internships, and clinical practice. State law differs on whether substance abuse counselors need to be licensed or certified (which requires continuing education). Graduates of these programs may work as counselors, but can also aspire to management and specialist positions within the field.

Substance Abuse Counseling Undergraduate Certificate

Substance abuse counseling certificate programs at the undergraduate level prepare students for counseling careers by teaching them about addictions, dependency evaluation, counseling methods and the latest research regarding drugs and alcohol. Many private and public colleges and universities offer the certificate program.

Students learn how to assess, treat and advise individuals and groups dealing with substance abuse. Students may also be educated about communicable diseases, eating disorders and domestic violence, which are sometimes associated with substance abuse. An internship or clinical experience is required for many certificate programs. Classes may include:

  • Psychology
  • Individual counseling
  • Group and family counseling
  • Counseling methods
  • Addiction studies
  • Psychopharmacology

Graduate Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance abuse counseling graduate certificate programs teach students graduate-level knowledge about substance abuse and prevention. Students can also learn about the latest substance abuse research, acquire counseling skills and gain knowledge about ethical standards. Graduate programs often prepare students for state licensing exams. Many private and public colleges offer graduate certificates in substance abuse counseling.

A bachelor's degree is typically required for admission into a graduate certificate program. However, some programs only accept students with a master's degree in counseling, social work or a related field.

Students participate in classroom lectures, and many programs also require students to demonstrate their proficiency through participation in field experiences. Typical classes may include:

  • Psychopathology
  • Substance abuse counseling methods
  • Assessment of substance abuse problems
  • Substance addiction studies
  • Chemical dependency

Popular Career Options

Individuals can acquire advanced positions within the substance abuse counseling field or use the certificate program to shift from a different counseling area. Some potential careers include:

  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Substance abuse educator
  • Drug and alcohol treatment specialist
  • Case manager

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselor jobs would increase by 22% between 2018 and 2028 ( One factor influencing this faster than average job growth is that more people convicted of drug crimes are being sent to substance abuse facilities instead of jail. In May 2019, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a median annual income of $46,240 according to the BLS.

Continuing Education

Substance abuse counselor certification requirements vary from state to state. Certification is required in some states and voluntary in others. Typical eligibility requirements include meeting minimum education and professional experience standards and passing an examination. Most states have multiple levels of certification available. For example, a level one substance abuse counselor certification designation usually indicates that the individual meets the lowest educational and work experience requirements. Continuing education is required to maintain some certifications.

Students may wish to further their studies by enrolling in a substance abuse counseling degree program. Some schools allow credits from the undergraduate certificate program in substance abuse counseling to transfer toward a relevant degree.

More in-depth knowledge, research opportunities and clinical training can be attained by enrolling in a master's degree program in substance abuse counseling or a related field. Many graduate certificate programs allow students to apply their credits to relevant master's degree programs.

Those who are interested in the field of substance abuse counseling can receive certificates at the undergraduate or graduate level. Depending on the level of education, the coursework for the certificate varies and some states may require continuing education in order to maintain certifications.

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