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How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor: Job Outlook, Education, Certification, and More

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor: Job Outlook, Education, Certification, and More

Did you know that substance abuse costs America over $600 billion every year? This number includes crime, treatment, and healthcare. But the most staggering cost is the loss of human life.

If you’ve always dreamt of making a difference, substance abuse counseling might be the right career path. As a counselor, you would provide care and rehabilitation for substance users. Learn how to become a substance abuse counselor to start your journey!

What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Counseling for drug and alcohol abuse is a multi-faceted job. Counselors are closely involved in their client’s treatment plan creation and implementation. They can work in hospitals, mental health settings, or private clinics.

On a daily basis, your job as a substance abuse counselor might involve:

  • Conducting individual therapy sessions
  • Facilitating group counseling sessions
  • Providing resources and referrals for clients
  • Researching and creating substance abuse prevention campaigns
  • Speaking at schools, universities, and public forums
  • Hosting educational community seminars

Counselors also often work with their client’s families to provide a healing framework. They help loved ones learn how to deal with addiction and offer various resources. Becoming a substance abuse counselor involves four essential steps:

  • Earning an accredited degree
  • Acquiring clinical practice hours
  • Passing a background check
  • Attaining state or national certification

The specific requirements vary from state to state. Find out what you need to become a counselor in your area by contacting your regional state licensing agency.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling Education

Earning the proper educational credentials is the first step toward your new career. Because requirements vary by state, you might only need an associate’s degree in some areas. Other states will ask for a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, or even a Ph.D. in counseling.

Regardless of what your state requires, there are many pathways to getting your degree. Online, on-campus, and hybrid programs are available for counseling students.

Online Education

The popularity of online education is skyrocketing! 20 years ago, the availability of online courses and programs was severely lacking. But as of 2019, 17.6% of all post-secondary students are taking courses exclusively online.

Online education is an ideal choice for individuals who:

  • Work a full-time job
  • Have family responsibilities
  • Aren’t able to relocate for school
  • Are driven, self-motivated, and organized

But online education might not be for you if you prefer to learn in a classroom. Those who require more guidance and support services might be more comfortable with on-campus options.

On-Campus Education

Traditional on-campus education gives you a lot of freedom when choosing which level of education you want to achieve. Options include:

  • Associate’s degree
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Ph.D.
  • Upgrading programs

There are hundreds of programs across the country providing comprehensive counseling education. Some programs even offer specializations like family counseling.

Hybrid Programs

A hybrid program like InterCoast’s Drug and Alcohol Counseling training program is another option. Hybrid programs combine in-person and online classes. Busy individuals with jobs or families can get the best of both worlds!

To save yourself time and money, look for programs that offer a well-rounded approach. You’ll need to complete courses in substance abuse and general education, like liberal arts and sciences. A program with a mentorship or practice hours is ideal for gaining hands-on experience.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling Certification

Each state requires a substance abuse counseling certification or license. If you have at least an associate’s degree, you’ll be able to get your foot in the door. Some states will allow a full license, while others will provide a training license.

With a training license, you’ll need to complete a set number of hours working under a supervisor. Some states then allow full licensing! Others will allow you to work under supervision as you complete your bachelor’s degree.

The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals offers both national and international credentials. They provide three levels based on your education and goals. Start your research at the NCC AP website to find out what you need!

Checking your state requirements is crucial before you choose an education pathway. If you don’t meet the educational conditions for your state’s certification, you’ll have to spend more time and money to upgrade.

Job Outlook for Substance Abuse Counselors

The good news is that all the hard work, education, and licensing testing will pay off! The current job outlook for substance abuse counselors is excellent.

The U.S Bureau of Labor projects a 23% growth for this industry by 2030, while the median for other careers is about 8%. This above-average growth rate translates to an extra 75,000 jobs in the next decade!

The average pay for a substance abuse counselor is $48,520 per year. That figure is in line with the median among all industries and equals about $23/hour. As an entry-level counselor, you may find yourself at the bottom of the spectrum earning a $30,000 salary.

With experience, you can expect your salary to climb to almost $80,000. But keep in mind that counselors often work long and strange hours.

Possible Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling Jobs

Obtaining a substance abuse counseling degree gives you a lot of freedom. You can work with children, teens, adults, families, inmates, and students. Counselors can find work in numerous settings depending on their specialization and interest.

The highest percentage of counselors work in outpatient centers. Other areas of work include:

  • Individual and family services
  • Public and private hospitals
  • Residential facilities
  • Government

But many others find work in prisons, parole agencies, and juvenile facilities. If you enjoy a challenge, you might find yourself helping a broad group of people in a larger setting like a public hospital.

Am I Right for the Job?

Becoming a substance abuse counselor is more than education and certifications. You need a specific type of personality to handle the ins and outs of this demanding job. To see if you’re a good fit for this field, ask yourself:

  • Am I compassionate and empathetic?
  • Do I have strong interpersonal skills?
  • Am I an active listener?
  • Is patience my strong point?
  • Am I a confident public speaker?

Some of these skills can be developed through experience. But others, like compassion, are often at the core of your personality. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is paramount to choosing the right career.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor Explained

Now that you know how to become a substance abuse counselor, are you a good fit? Can you handle the educational requirements? Do the job prospects excite you and fill you with passion?

Substance abuse counselors are an integral component of our healthcare system. But it’s not the only option! For more career guides and advice, check out some of the articles below.

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