Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance Abuse Counseling Degree



An extreme desire to help someone during one of the most stressful and crisis-filled times in their life. 

If this describes you, then earning a substance abuse counseling degree followed by a career in substance abuse counseling may be in your future. 

What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance abuse counselors – sometimes referred to as behavioral disorder counselors – are responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of people who have serious addictions to substances such as alcohol and drugs, or whom are addicted to gambling or suffer from things like eating disorders. Treatment and support designed to help their clients recover from their addictions, or to modify their problem behaviors, are part of the services that substance abuse counselors provide. 

They can work in clinics, government programs, public or private hospitals, prisons, outpatient or in-patient rehabilitation treatment centers or in private practice. The majority of substance abuse counselors work in outpatient treatment programs. 

While the work is often rewarding, it can be incredibly stressful. Substance abuse counselors may find themselves dealing with large caseloads, and may not always have the resources needed to fulfill the demand for their services. They often are faced with crisis situations that can include agitated clients, which creates a tense work environment. 

Education and Training Requirements

There are a variety of “levels” of education required for this job, and each qualifies the graduate to serve in certain roles within the field. Some states have specific education requirements for substance abuse counselors, so prior to selecting any training program, students should seek out information specific to their state. 

The types of degree programs available include:

  • Associate Degree – Typically, those who complete this two-year degree program, either online or on a traditional college campus, are eligible for jobs in treatment settings. This includes halfway houses, substance abuse counseling centers and school settings. 
  • Bachelor’s Degree – An undergraduate degree is not required, but can open more doors for those in the field of substance abuse counseling. Persons who possess a Bachelor’s Degree are eligible for all the same jobs as those with an associate degree, plus they also are eligible to provide counseling services to individuals, families and groups. They also are able to serve in the capacity of a substance abuse social worker, who are licensed social workers specializing in individual and family therapy for substance abuse issues.
  • Master’s Degree – A graduate degree is not required to become a substance abuse counselor. The only advantage to possessing a graduate degree for this field is that it accelerates the rate at which a substance abuse counselor receives full certification from their state of practice. Those who possess a Master’s Degree also have access to higher wages, as well as the opportunity to work in supervisory roles. 

While there are numerous brick-and-mortar degree programs for substance abuse counselors, there also are a growing number of programs being offered strictly online. Students may wish to explore whether the program they’ve selected is certified by the Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. 

Job Outlook and Future Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse counselors will be in high demand between now and the year 2020, with an anticipated growth rate of 27 percent. As more people seek treatment for addictive behaviors, and those treatment options become less taboo, those entering this field of work will find plenty of employment opportunities in the coming years. 

Perhaps one of the best reasons for the explosive growth in this industry is the popularity of the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, program. Many first-time drug and alcohol abuse offenders are now being offered the option of completing this program as an alternative to jail time. The program is for non-violent offenders only with no prior record, or a very limited criminal record. The program’s main purpose is the rehabilitation of the offender. Roughly 90 percent of all participants in this program were arrested for violations involving alcohol or drugs (or both). Substance abuse counseling is a huge part of this program, and all offenders are required to complete counseling before they will be recommended for completion, and charges relating to their offense will be dropped. 

The average median salary for substance abuse counselors is $38,120, with the top 10 percent of earners making in excess of $60,000 annually. 

Article by Shari Berg,

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