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Drug Abuse Counselors



Schools and Education

What’s Needed:

  • Education requirements can range from a Master’s degree to just a high school diploma.
  • In many states a licensed drug abuse counselor needs a Master’s degree in Addiction and Substance Abuse.
  • Those with more college education have opportunities to provide more services to clients including one-on-one counseling sessions.
  • Those interested in this field should check their state’s educational requirements before looking for schools for applicable programs.

The education programs focus on practice theory ethics and research methods of substance abuse counseling. Many of the programs include an internship or a capstone experience.

Many of those seeking a Master degree in Substance Abuse Counseling or Counseling have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Most Bachelor in Psychology degree programs include specializations; many of those interested in a counseling career select a clinical or health-related specialization.

What you study:

  • Patient assessment
  • Group counseling techniques
  • Treatment planning
  • Case management skills
  • Crisis intervention
  • Individual counseling
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Types of substance abuse

What courses you’ll take

Below are examples of courses that you’ll likely take as a student pursueing a degree or advanced certificate in addiction or substance abuse counseling.

Drugs and BehaviorIntroduces types of commonly abused drugs and the problems that result. Gives a historical context and presents models that explain the causes of chemical dependencies. Considers the effects of abuse on the abuser his/her family and his/her community. Presents primary types of therapies currently in use.Introduce core knowledge in the field that prepares students for more advanced training.
AlcoholismReviews alcoholism in a multi-dimensional way covering factors such as sociological psychological physiological and behavioral. Looks at current tools for diagnosis and treatments.Provide students with an understanding of the disease of alcoholism to ready them for advanced studies.
PharmacologyLooks at mechanisms behind chemical dependencies including drug tolerance synergies between drugs and withdrawal. Reviews the effects on the body and the role of the liver and kidneys in absorption of chemicals in the body. Covers side effects of abused drugs.Provide a core understanding of how drugs become addictive to facilitate evaluation of patients.
CounselingIntroduces various counseling theories with emphasis on those most commonly used for substance abuse and addiction treatments. Covers the process of counseling what is needed in a therapy relationship and ethical considerations.Give a foundation for applying counseling theories and for helping the development of a student’s own personal counseling approach.
Group CounselingConsiders the kinds of interactions within a group setting for people with substance abuse histories. Provides theoretical understanding of group dynamics and workshops in which students take on group roles. Teaches observation and communication skills for leading support groups.Prepare students to use support groups as a counseling tool.
Addiction and Family ImpactLooks at how addictions impact families including the roles of family members behaviors between members and symptoms. Presents strategies for assessing and intervening within the family with the goal of restoring healthy relationships.Prepare students to counsel families with addiction issues.
Relapse PreventionReviews warning signs and factors related to relapses in addicts and alcoholics. Looks at recovery an addict’s relationships and self care.Ready students to identify prevent and treat substance abuse relapses.
Dual DiagnosisCovers the symptoms common to individuals that have both a chemical addiction and mental health condition. Reviews treatment needs including multi-disciplined treatments.Prepare students to treat patients with both drug addiction and mental health issues.
Ethics and Legal ConcernsCovers court procedures and laws related to drug-related offenses. Ethics topics can include non-discrimination client welfare confidentiality and client relationships.Give students background knowledge to effectively consider the law and professional ethics as part of their counseling decision making.

Video Overview

A short introduction into the work of Substance Abuse Counselors. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.

A Day in the Life

You will need compassion and a strong desire to help people.

Substance abuse counselors need compassion and a strong desire to help people. One of the major challenges you’ll deal with is controlling your emotions while dealing with clients. You’ll likely experience emotional highs and lows.

You’ll often be involved in crisis intervention. Crisis intervention demands a nonjudgmental sympathetic attitude and a lot of support.

A large number of drug addicts need help in many areas of their lives. Drug abuse counselors refer clients to an array of other services which may provide them a solid platform to deal with their drug addition.

You may have to deal with homeless clients with mental illness. Substance abuse counselors also have to deal with their own sadness and frustration when clients slip back into strong drug abuse. Learning drug addict clients have died is obviously a difficult aspect of the job.

You’ll often work with the family members of drug abusers.

Substance abuse counselors often work with the family members of drug abusers. Some drug abuse counselors specialize in working with post-rehab clients helping them obtain services. Drug abuse counselors sometimes work under the supervision of psychologists physicians and social workers.

You may provide individual and/or group counseling. In group counseling sessions you’ll lead the group guiding discussion and providing feedback and strategies for clients.

Certifications and Licensing

Drug abuse counselors in private practice need a license which typically requires a masters’s degree along with two thousand to three thousand hours of supervise clinical experience. Drug abuse counselors are required to pass a state-recognized exam and complete continuing education requirements every year.

The license and certification requirements for drug abuse counselors not working in private practice varies by the state. For example not every state requires a specific degree but many states require candidates to pass an exam.

Job Flexibility

Full-time versus part-time: Most substance abuse counselors work full-time. In some environments such as inpatient facilities they might work nights or weekends.

Work location: Substance abuse counselors work in a wide array of setting such as mental health centers probation or parole agencies prisons employed assistance programs residential treatment centers outpatient treatment centers. They also work in private practice halfway houses detox centers and juvenile detention facilities.

Recommended Websites

  • The American Counseling Association (ACA) provides an array of resources. The website provides information in categories such as Professional Development Online Learning and Ethics. The ACA offers resources to help students become a professional counselor. The American Counseling Association helps students with their personal and professional growth and also provides networking opportunities. The ACA Conference & Expo offers a variety of networking and educational offerings.
  • The National Board For Certified Counselors provides important information about certifications state licensure exams and about its services. The website also provides study guides. The National Board For Certified Counselors provides information about the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors.
  • The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs provides important information about accreditation. The website also provides useful tips for selecting a graduate program and provides information about obtaining a license after graduation.
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook The US Bureau of Labor Statistics handbook section titled “Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors” provides reference information and data about this career including lists of activities the workplace environment job outlooks and more.
  • O*NET OnLine’s summary provides a highly statistical look at substance abuse careers covering many different aspects of the job including its knowledge skills abilities interests values and so on.

    Salaries by City

    See typical salaries and ranges for this career below Shift click to sort by more than one column — for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.

    StateCity / RegionTypical SalarySalary RangeJob Count% of All Jobs
    AKAnchorage$44510$34K – $68K1200.07%
    ALBirmingham – Hoover$39720$32K – $57K2400.05%
    ALHuntsville$26670$18K – $37K500.03%
    ALMobile$35900$26K – $69K700.04%
    ALMontgomery$43560$36K – $56K500.03%
    ARFayetteville – Springdale – Rogers$51150$32K – $60K300.02%
    ARFort Smith$30960$26K – $43K400.04%
    ARLittle Rock – North Little Rock – Conway$35710$21K – $56K1100.03%
    AZPhoenix – Mesa – Glendale$38150$21K – $67K10000.06%
    AZPrescott$31440$19K – $47K300.06%
    AZTucson$35940$26K – $51K4700.13%
    CABakersfield – Delano$46020$28K – $57K1100.04%
    CAChico$34050$23K – $54K900.13%
    CAEl Centro$43930$31K – $68K400.08%
    CAFresno$33010$26K – $54K2900.09%
    CALos Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale (Metro Area)$28960$18K – $47K28300.07%
    CAModesto$50050$25K – $60K1600.10%
    CANapa$32260$25K – $46K700.11%
    CAOakland – Fremont – Hayward (Metro Area)$41290$30K – $82K5800.06%
    CAOxnard – Thousand Oaks – Ventura$35170$21K – $48K2000.07%
    CARiverside – San Bernardino – Ontario$35930$26K – $59K8300.07%
    CASacramento – Arden – Arcade – Roseville$33950$24K – $57K5800.07%
    CASalinas$41990$32K – $60K2300.15%
    CASan Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos$33850$23K – $54K5900.05%
    CASan Francisco – San Mateo – Redwood City (Metro Area)$40820$30K – $58K5100.05%
    CASan Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara$38430$29K – $68K2600.03%
    CASanta Ana – Anaheim – Irvine (Metro Area)$30910$24K – $55K4700.03%
    CASanta Barbara – Santa Maria – Goleta$33900$26K – $55K1600.10%
    CASanta Cruz – Watsonville$29320$21K – $46K1200.14%
    CASanta Rosa – Petaluma$34820$26K – $61K1800.11%
    CAStockton$51110$26K – $65K1400.07%
    CAVallejo – Fairfield$34390$25K – $59KN/AN/A
    CAVisalia – Porterville$41360$23K – $70K900.07%
    CAYuba City$26620$21K – $42K500.14%
    COBoulder$44310$29K – $59K1100.07%
    COColorado Springs$40380$26K – $52KN/AN/A
    CODenver – Aurora – Broomfield$39500$22K – $59K7300.06%
    COFort Collins – Loveland$37100$25K – $59K600.04%
    COPueblo$29880$21K – $49K1700.31%
    CTBridgeport – Stamford – Norwalk$45270$34K – $66K2000.05%
    CTDanbury$49180$31K – $67K300.05%
    CTHartford – West Hartford – East Hartford$45760$32K – $67K7900.14%
    CTNew Haven$39160$27K – $67K2400.09%
    CTNorwich – New London$39350$33K – $70K800.06%
    CTWaterbury$44340$27K – $69K1900.31%
    DCWashington – Arlington – Alexandria (Metro Area)$49330$32K – $78K10200.04%
    DEWilmington (Metro Area)$38340$32K – $56K2600.08%
    FLDeltona – Daytona Beach – Ormond Beach$43190$27K – $62K800.05%
    FLFort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach – Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)$36280$21K – $62K5400.08%
    FLGainesville$36260$26K – $58K1300.11%
    FLJacksonville$41380$29K – $60K1700.03%
    FLLakeland – Winter Haven$48680$26K – $59KN/AN/A
    FLMiami – Miami Beach – Kendall (Metro Area)$45470$22K – $74K2900.03%
    FLNorth Port – Bradenton – Sarasota$44160$23K – $63K900.04%
    FLOcala$38380$22K – $58K900.11%
    FLOrlando – Kissimmee – Sanford$37480$26K – $58K3800.04%
    FLPalm Bay – Melbourne – Titusville$36070$22K – $53K1400.07%
    FLPanama City – Lynn Haven – Panama City Beach$23300$18K – $37K1600.22%
    FLPensacola – Ferry Pass – Brent$36450$29K – $53K2300.15%
    FLPort St. Lucie$33120$20K – $62K1500.12%
    FLTallahassee$44540$35K – $58K500.03%
    FLTampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater$45680$25K – $75K4700.04%
    FLWest Palm Beach – Boca Raton – Boynton Beach (Metro Area)$44770$34K – $68K3500.07%
    GAAtlanta – Sandy Springs – Marietta$38730$26K – $59K8900.04%
    GAAugusta – Richmond County$36680$29K – $47K900.05%
    GAColumbus$42660$32K – $49K300.03%
    GAMacon$45200$31K – $60KN/AN/A
    GARome$31250$26K – $52K300.09%
    GASavannah$35300$25K – $56K1300.08%
    GAValdosta$32320$26K – $46K400.09%
    HIHonolulu$41580$25K – $67K2300.05%
    IADavenport – Moline – Rock Island$34230$27K – $59K400.02%
    IADes Moines – West Des Moines$47680$34K – $67K1100.03%
    IAIowa City$54240$35K – $69KN/AN/A
    IDBoise City – Nampa$42150$30K – $49K5100.20%
    IDCoeur d’Alene ID$26090$16K – $37K600.12%
    IDIdaho Falls$40860$32K – $56K600.13%
    IDPocatello$40590$30K – $56K1100.32%
    ILChicago – Joliet – Naperville (Metro Area)$38580$27K – $59K12600.03%
    ILLake County – Kenosha County (Metro Area)$44350$32K – $71K700.02%
    ILPeoria$29990$25K – $43K1100.06%
    ILRockford$34130$23K – $44K800.06%
    INAnderson$29470$26K – $54KN/AN/A
    INElkhart – Goshen$39610$24K – $52K500.05%
    INEvansville$30200$17K – $56K700.04%
    INFort Wayne$37090$24K – $62K400.02%
    INGary (Metro Area)$31410$20K – $44K1200.05%
    INIndianapolis – Carmel$40690$27Kr”>$36570$28K – $52K400.03%
    INTerre Haute$29010$26K – $39K300.05%
    KSLawrence$40890$32K – $55K400.08%
    KSTopeka$38170$29K – $46K400.04%
    KSWichita$32780$25K – $45K1900.07%
    KYElizabethtown$32230$17K – $42K500.11%
    KYLexington – Fayette$28640$17K – $77K400.01%
    KYLouisville – Jefferson County$36210$25K – $62K4200.07%
    LABaton Rouge$33640$18K – $54K1200.03%
    LANew Orleans – Metairie – Kenner$37480$21K – $49K1200.02%
    LAShreveport – Bossier City$36020$26K – $57K600.03%
    MABarnstable Town$$31K – $55K1000.10%
    MABoston – Cambridge – Quincy (Metro Area)$43230$32K – $57K12700.07%
    MABrockton – Bridgewater – Easton (Metro Area)$47310$29K – $74K900.10%
    MAFramingham (Metro Area)