Substance Abuse Counselor Education and Training Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a substance abuse counselor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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The requirements for a career as a substance abuse counselor vary widely. In some cases, a high school diploma and on-the-job training may be sufficient. Other employers require a master's degree.

Essential Information

Substance abuse counselors use their knowledge and skills to help individuals during their recovery process from addictions or behavior problems. They usually work in group settings, although they can also conduct individual counseling sessions. The required training varies as each state has its own educational requirements for licensure. Some counselors receive on-the-job training and only need to possess a high school diploma and certification. Others must earn a certificate or an undergraduate or graduate degree. Counselors who pursue formal education receive hands-on training through a supervised internships, which are designed to meet state licensure or certification requirements.

Required Education Varies from high school diploma with on-the-job training to master's degree
Other Requirements State licensure and/or certification
Projected Job Growth 22% from 2014-2024 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*
Median Salary (2015) $39,980 annually for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Substance Abuse Counselor Education Information

Individuals interested in becoming substance abuse counselors are urged to check their state's licensure requirements, since educational prerequisites vary greatly by state. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, some states require students only complete a high school diploma and obtain certification to become licensed substance abuse counselors. Other states require a master's degree.

Students entering an educational program in substance abuse counseling must have graduated from high school or earned their GED prior to enrollment. Programs can lead to a certificate or degree ranging from associate's to master's. All students should have a desire to help people and their families through the recovery process. Additional prerequisites might be necessary depending on the degree level being pursued.

Prospective substance abuse counselors enrolled in a formal program study topics including patient assessment, treatment planning, group counseling techniques, individual counseling, crisis intervention and case management skills. Additional subjects of study might include interviewing techniques, families and the addiction process, drugs and society, types of substance abuse, crime and drugs, professional ethics and addictive behaviors.

Training Requirements

Students generally need to complete a number of supervised internship hours to complete a substance abuse or addiction counseling program. Some substance abuse counselor programs require up to 460 hours of supervised training under a qualified clinical supervisor or certified mental health professional. Some of these experiences are paid internships, and some are meant to fulfill specific state certification or licensure requirements. Most programs require around 100-150 hours of internship experience to fulfill training requirements. Many schools offer job placement services to graduates of substance abuse counseling programs.

The BLS expects that job growth for substance abuse counselors between 2014-2024 will increase by 22%, which is much faster than average compared to all occupations. In 2015, junior colleges offered the highest salaries to substance abuse counselors, paying a mean salary of $72,520.

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