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Substance Abuse Counselor Job Duties and Education Requirements

Substance abuse counselors may need to have significant formal education. Learn about the education requirements and job duties to see if this is the right career for you.

Substance abuse counselors help their patients and families through the process of rehabilitation and recovery from drugs, alcohol, and other substance and behavioral addictions. If you are interested in becoming a substance abuse counselor, a degree program in psychology, counseling, or related field is a good start for your career. Some schools may even offer programs specifically in substance abuse counseling.

Essential Information

Substance abuse counselors are trained mental health professionals who work with patients who have alcohol, drug and gambling addictions as well as eating disorders. Educational requirements for this career vary widely by state and position; some positions are available to those with a high school diploma, while others require applicants to have a master's degree.

Required Education Varies by state; ranges from high school diploma to master's degree
Other Requirements State licensure or certification
Projected Job Growth (2012-24) 22% for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors*
Median Annual Salary (May 2015) $39,980 for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors*

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Substance Abuse Counselor Education Requirements

The educational standards of substance abuse counselors are maintained by state agencies and vary between localities. For the most part, substance abuse counselors are required to possess bachelor's or master's degrees in subjects related to psychology and counseling. Programs specifically dedicated to substance abuse counseling may be available. Undergraduate degree programs associated with psychology teach topics such as psychopharmacology, mental health counseling, human development and counseling techniques; they can be completed in four years. Many graduate programs require aspiring substance abuse counselors to complete a minimum of 48 semester-hours of supervised clinical instruction, in addition to a well-researched, comprehensive thesis.

In some states, substance abuse counselors must only possess a high school diploma and proper certification to practice. In these states, prospective counselors must learn substance abuse techniques and treatment through state-sponsored training programs. Individuals without college degrees work in non-clinical settings.

Job Duties

Substance abuse counselors are charged with assisting patients through drug rehabilitation programs and offering techniques for handling addiction. Patients may work with substance abuse counselors individually, but treatment is often provided in group sessions. Counselors assist patients with crisis management and coping strategies; they also help family members and friends of patients acclimate to lifestyle and behavioral changes. One of the primary tasks of any substance abuse counselor is evaluating patient progress during therapy.

There are a number of duties associated with a career in substance abuse counseling. In addition to treatment, substance abuse counselors might need to possess knowledge of drug and alcohol testing to ensure a patient is following treatment plans and medical instructions. Substance abuse counselors often work closely with doctors, nurses and social workers to provide patients with comprehensive therapy and treatment.

Substance abuse counselors work in group and one-on-one situations to provide support to people with different substance and behavioral addictions or even eating disorders. As a substance abuse counselor, you may also need to collaborate with doctors, nurses, and therapists on a patient's therapy and treatment.


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