Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors provide support and therapy to individuals suffering or recovering from alcohol or drug abuse. They help clients sort out underlying issues contributing to their overuse of substances and address any behavioral or mental health problems.

Substance abuse counselors create treatment plans for their clients with the goal of abstaining from drugs or alcohol. They also help clients discover new and healthy ways of dealing with stress and problems.

The licensing criteria for substance abuse counselors vary by state. A bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling is a good start for those hoping to pursue a career in this field.

Substance Abuse Counselor Job Description

Substance abuse counselors assess and evaluate clients and their addiction problems through interviews, case histories and observations. They then develop intervention, treatment and recovery plans. Many clients are able to overcome their problems with outpatient therapy and resources, but a substance abuse counselor might recommend an inpatient stay at a treatment center for severe cases.

Substance abuse counselors assist their clients by:

  • Identifying “triggers” that lead to substance abuse
  • Helping them find employment
  • Referring them to support groups, 12-step programs and other resources
  • Encouraging emotional growth
  • Providing crisis intervention when necessary
  • Counseling family members affected by their problem

Many substance abuse counselors were once addicts themselves, which helps them empathize with and appreciate the difficulties their clients’ face. However, a strong educational background in counseling, paired with internships in the addiction and behavioral disorders field can be just as effective.

Substance abuse counselors may work in treatment centers, welfare agencies, hospitals, prisons, half-way houses or private practices.

Substance Abuse Counselor Salary

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the mean annual wage for substance abuse counselors was $37,830 in 2007. The top percentile earned a mean annual wage of $55,650.

Job growth for substance abuse counselors is expected to rise much faster than average through 2016, with a 34% increase in jobs expected. This is due in part to changing views regarding drug offenders—many are sent to treatment programs now instead of prison. It is also a result of society’s increasing understanding of addiction and the reduced stigma of getting help.



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