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Substance Abuse Counseling Studies: Overview of Academic Field

Substance abuse counselors help addicts develop individualized recovery strategies that incorporate coping methods and encourage healthy behaviors. Substance abuse counselors may obtain a certificate, an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree, depending on the licensure requirements for the individual state. Colleges and universities offer substance abuse counseling studies programs through their psychology, human services or counseling departments.

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Prospective substance abuse counselors have several certificate and degree options available; through they should keep in mind that specific education requirements for licensure vary by state and type of practice. Students in these program can take courses ranging in topics from counseling methods to pharmacology.

Substance Abuse Counseling Studies Overview

Substance abuse counselors work with people who have problems with drugs, alcohol or other substance dependencies to help them recognize issues and behaviors related to their substance abuse and addiction. Some substance abuse counselors also counsel friends and family members of substance abusers. Counseling for substance abuse can take place one-on-one, in a group or through a combination of both techniques. The clinical practicums in a substance abuse counseling certificate or degree program can give students hands-on experience working with patients in counseling situations.

Program Options

A certificate program in substance abuse counseling may take only one year to complete, while an associate's degree program takes two years and a bachelor's degree program takes four years of full-time study in the psychology or human services department. Master's degree programs typically require two years of study beyond a bachelor's degree, and some universities offer their graduate-level substance abuse counseling programs online or through distance learning. Common coursework in a substance abuse counseling program includes:

  • Counseling models
  • Crisis intervention
  • Chemical dependency
  • Legal and ethical issues for counselors
  • Case management
  • Pharmacology for substance abuse
  • Group dynamics and facilitation
  • Family counseling
  • Public and community issues of substance abuse

Program Prerequisites

Admission into undergraduate certificate and degree programs usually require a high school diploma and standardized test scores, while others may also require prospective students to submit an essay and a criminal background check. Graduate level certificate and degree programs require a bachelor's degree. Many graduate programs may also require an essay, recommendation letters, and a criminal background check for admittance.

Licensing Requirements

Each state regulates substance abuse counselors, and most states license substance abuse counselors through the state department of health, department of professional licensing, counseling board, or alcohol and drug abuse prevention office. Typically, states require license-seeking substance abuse counselors to meet the state's minimum education requirement, which is a master's degree for private practices. Non-private practices may only require applicants to have high school diplomas or undergraduate degrees. States often also require counselors to pass a licensure exam and a set number of clinical hours.

Students who want to prepare for careers in substance abuse counseling can find both undergraduate- and graduate-level programs. Options are available in both traditional and online formats. However, graduates of all programs should be aware that those seeking to work at or start private practices may be required to have a master's degree.

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