Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in 5 Steps

As a substance abuse counselor, you'll work with addicts and their families as well as physicians to develop recovery plans and treatment. Learn about this career and what you need to do to enter it. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor may also be known as an addictions counselor, drug rehabilitation counselor or drug and alcohol addiction counselor. Drugs can include illegal, prescription and over-the-counter medications. Through assessment and treatment, you'll help addicts to overcome their addictions and fight the constant battle throughout their daily lives.

You'll empower patients through communication and coping skills so they can function at home, at work and in the community. You'll often work with addicts in group sessions, work with families of addicts and promote awareness in the community. In addition to providing counseling for the initial break from substance abuse, you can continue to offer support and guidance to prevent relapse.

Step 1: Research the Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that between 2008 and 2018 the employment opportunities for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors would increase 21% (www.bls.gov). More counselors will be needed as more people seek help and more sentences for drug offenses include mandatory treatment. The average salary in the field as of May 2010 was $40,810.

Step 2: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Depending on where you want to work, educational requirements may vary. While a high school diploma is accepted by some state agencies, postsecondary education will provide you with a greater range of job possibilities. A bachelor's degree program in substance abuse counseling teaches you the basics to working with addicts. You'll learn about psychology, anatomy, therapy methods, assessment and counseling ethics. You'll also study program planning, welfare policies and how addiction affects the brain and behavior. You may also gain personal experience in internships.

Step 3: Consider Further Education

Master's degree programs in substance abuse are also available. These programs dig deeper into psychoanalytical theories and the effect substance abuse has on society. You'll also study pharmacology, crisis intervention and the role of religion in counseling. Master's degree programs can also offer further internships and practicum experience in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics or private offices. Some states may require a master's degree to obtain licensure.

Step 4: Earn Licensure

State licensure requirements for substance abuse counselors vary, so you'll need to research the particular criteria for the state in which you plan on working. Requirements may include completion of certain courses, exams or supervised work experience. Some states allow a given amount of work experience to replace education requirements.

Step 5: Seek Certification

There are national certification programs available for voluntary certification. The Association for Addiction Professionals has a national certification commission (www.naadac.org). The commission offers five certifications of varying levels and specialties. These programs require you to have state licensure and at least three years of supervised experience as a substance abuse counselor. The National Board for Certified Counselors also has a voluntary certification as a Master Addictions Counselor (www.nbcc.org). You'll need at least 12 credit hours of graduate work and three years of supervised work as a counselor to sit for the exam.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

Popular Schools

  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Capella University

    Capella University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Capella University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Strayer University

    Strayer University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Strayer University:

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • Alabama: Birmingham, Huntsville
    • Arkansas: Little Rock
    • Columbia (D.C.): Washington
    • Delaware: Newark
    • Florida: Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Maitland, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens, Tampa
    • Georgia: Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Douglasville, Lithonia, Morrow, Roswell, Savannah
    • Louisiana: Metairie
    • Maryland: Baltimore, Millersville, Owings Mills, Rockville, Suitland
    • Mississippi: Jackson
    • North Carolina: Charlotte, Greensboro, Huntersville, Morrisville, Raleigh
    • Pennsylvania: Center Valley, King of Prussia, Philadelphia, Springfield, Trevose, Warrendale
    • South Carolina: Columbia, Greenville, North Charleston
    • Tennessee: Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville
    • Texas: Austin, Cedar Hill, Dallas, Houston, Irving, Plano, San Antonio, Stafford
    • Virginia: Alexandria, Arlington, Ashburn, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, Glen Allen, Manassas, Midlothian, Newport News, Virginia Beach, Woodbridge
    • West Virginia: Scott Depot
  • Kaplan University

    Kaplan University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Kaplan University:

    Online Programs Available

  • DeVry University

    DeVry University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at DeVry University:

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • Arizona: Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix
    • California: Alhambra, Anaheim, Bakersfield, Colton, Daly City, Elk Grove, Fremont, Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, Oxnard, Palmdale, Pomona, San Diego, San Jose, Sherman Oaks
    • Colorado: Colorado Springs, Greenwood Village, Westminster
    • Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Tampa
    • Georgia: Alpharetta, Atlanta, Decatur, Duluth, Stockbridge
    • Illinois: Addison, Chicago, Downers Grove, Elgin, Gurnee, Naperville, Schaumburg, Tinley Park
    • Indiana: Indianapolis, Merrillville
    • Kentucky: Louisville
    • Maryland: Bethesda
    • Michigan: Southfield
    • Minnesota: Edina
    • Missouri: Kansas City, Saint Louis
    • North Carolina: Charlotte, Morrisville
    • New Jersey: Cherry Hill, North Brunswick, Paramus
    • Nevada: Henderson
    • New York: New York, Rego Park
    • Ohio: Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Seven Hills
    • Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
    • Oregon: Portland
    • Pennsylvania: Cranberry Township, Fort Washington, King of Prussia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
    • Tennessee: Memphis, Nashville
    • Texas: Austin, Fort Worth, Houston, Irving, Richardson, San Antonio, Sugar Land
    • Utah: Sandy
    • Virginia: Arlington, Chesapeake, Manassas
    • Washington: Bellevue, Federal Way, Lynnwood
    • Wisconsin: Milwaukee, Waukesha
  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Medaille College

    Medaille College responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Medaille College:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Florida Tech University Online

    Florida Tech University Online responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Florida Tech University Online:

    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs

    Online Programs Available

  • Brandman University

    Brandman University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Brandman University:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • California: Culver City, Fairfield, Folsom, Hanford, Irvine, Menifee, Monterey, Ontario, Palm Desert, Palmdale, Riverside, Roseville, Salida, San Diego, Santa Clarita, Santa Maria, Victorville, Visalia, Yuba City
    • Washington: Lacey
  • Herzing University

    Herzing University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Herzing University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Robert Morris University

    Robert Morris University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Robert Morris University:

    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • University of Phoenix

    University of Phoenix responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of Phoenix:

    Online and Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • Anywhere: Online Campus
    • Arizona: Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson, Yuma
    • California: Bakersfield, Beale AFB, Chula Vista, Costa Mesa, Diamond Bar, El Centro, Fairfield, Fresno, Gardena, La Palma, Lancaster, Lathrop, Livermore, Murrieta, Oakland, Ontario, Palm Desert, Pasadena, Sacramento, Salida, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose, San Marcos, Visalia, Woodland Hills
    • Colorado: Colorado Springs, Lone Tree, Westminster
    • Florida: Ft Lauderdale, Miami, Miramar
    • Hawaii: Honolulu, Kapolei
    • Illinois: Chicago, Schaumburg
    • Michigan: Detroit, Southfield
    • New Mexico: Albuquerque, Santa Teresa
    • Nevada: Henderson, Las Vegas
    • Puerto Rico: Guaynabo
    • Texas: Arlington, Dallas, Houston, Spring
    • Utah: Clearfield, Salt Lake City, South Jordan
  • The University of Liverpool

    The University of Liverpool responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at The University of Liverpool:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Azusa Pacific Online University

    Azusa Pacific Online University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Azusa Pacific Online University:

    Online Programs Available

  • University of the Southwest

    University of the Southwest responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of the Southwest:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available