Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling Degree

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What is Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling?

Substance abuse and addiction counseling is considered one of the more difficult areas of social service. The role of the counselor is to identify addiction and its underlying causes and then assist the client in achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Substance abuse and addiction counselors will work with other social services, such as lawyers, psychologists, social workers, and career counselors in order to assist the client transition toward sobriety. In addition, counselors will try to find causes for addiction and attempt to assist in the remedy and removal of such sources in order to prevent relapse into detrimental abuse behavior.

How Prevalent is Addiction?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), approximately 1 in 12 adults suffer from alcohol dependence abuse in the United States.  This translates to 17.6 million adults suffering from alcohol abuse with millions more engaging in dangerous binge drinking behavior.   All told, alcohol and drug abuse is directly related to over $600 billion of health and crime-related costs annually in the United States.

Addiction is not only a physical phenomenon but has lasting mental and emotional side effects for everyone involved.  Thus, the importance of having a well-trained, competent substance abuse and addiction counselor available to meet the needs of those suffering.

A drug counselor can be a coach, supporter, mentor, anchor, friend, and advisor to those in need.  With the sheer range of alcohol and drugs available today through legal and illegal channels, dealing with substance abuse head on is a critical job for all involved.

How Do You Become a Drug and Alcohol Counselor?

Are you considering earning an online substance counselor degree or a traditional substance counselor degree from a college or university?  It is crucial to know the steps to become a counselor before enrolling in a college program or completing your college application.  We will cover the steps involved in becoming a drug counselor below to help you through the process.

  1. Education: The initial step in the journey to become a drug and alcohol counselor is to get an education from a qualifying institution. Accredited colleges and universities are the most common institutions to prepare students to become a professional counselor.  In some states, a certification is sufficient while others require a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree to become a drug counselor.
  2. Clinical Experience: After earning your degree, you will typically be required to obtain hands-on experience in an approved clinical setting. The number of hours of supervised clinical experience and approved institutions are established by your state of residence.
  3. Licensing: In many states, you will need to sit for a state-administered licensing examination after earning a qualifying college degree plus your required hours of clinical experience. The license allows you to practice as a substance abuse counselor in your state and work with a larger organization or start your own practice.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Counseling?

The length of time it takes to earn your degree in drug counseling depends on the number of credits you take at a given time coupled with the degree type you select.  For the examples below, we will presume full-time matriculation at an accredited college or university for ease of example.  Both on-site and online drug counseling programs are available from a wide range of colleges across the country.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling: 4-years to earn a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling including general education courses and core curriculum in counseling.
  • Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling: 1-2 years to earn a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling after successfully completing all prerequisite classes.
  • Doctorate Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling: 1-2 years to earn a PhD or Doctorate in substance abuse counseling after completion of all lower-level prerequisite classes.

Educational Requirements for Addiction Counselors

The educational requirements for becoming a substance abuse and addiction counselor varies from state to state, and can be as low as a high school diploma or as high as a master's degree.

Most states also require a license or certification and it is prudent to check the state's licensure requirements. Supervised internships for certification or a degree are mandatory.  As a result, the necessary clock hours will be established by your state's regulatory body.

Individuals who pursue a graduate degree will typically have an easier time finding work.  The basis for this reality is the amount of knowledge & clinical skills provided by graduate degree programs.  Large breadth of academic work for graduate students allows for a broad spectrum of techniques and specialized skills.  For reference, curriculum in substance abuse counseling may include:

  • Human Behavior
  • Psychology
  • Chemistry
  • Sociology
  • Drug Abuse, Causes and Treatments
  • Counseling Techniques

Programs for substance abuse and addiction counseling will include classes in group and individual counseling techniques, patient assistance, case management and crisis intervention. Additionally classes will be taken in broader fields of study including sociology, criminology and psychology. This is to ensure that the counselor will have a good understanding of the personal and social causes of substance abuse and addiction.

Employment for Substance Abuse Counselors

Upon completion of an accredited program, individuals will look for positions as a counselor at hospitals, community centers, mental health facilities, and preventive education centers.

A counselor may choose to pursue a specialization, for example working with kids, single parents or ex-convicts, or may perform their duties without a specialization. Typically a program will provide job placement opportunities for graduates through various connections and time tested contacts with counseling services either locally or regionally.

Licensure may or may not be required by a given state, and it is up to the individual to research state policy prior to seeking employment.

It is important to note that substance abuse and addiction counseling is considered a high stress job with a high turnover rate. This is due to the personal connections that can form between client and counselor and the high amount of relapse among clients.

Substance and abuse and addiction counselors can branch into other social services, the opportunities of which are generally dependent on level of education.

Common Job Titles of a Substance Abuse Counselor

  • Addictions Counselor
  • Counselor
  • Substance Abuse Counselor (SA Counselor)
  • Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist (DATS)
  • Chemical Dependency Professional
  • Clinical Counselor
  • Prevention Specialist
  • Case Manager
  • Chemical Dependency Counselor (CD Counselor)
  • Correctional Substance Abuse Counselor

Top Job Responsibilities of a Substance Abuse Counselor

In a recent survey by the United States Department of Labor of substance abuse counselors and behavior disorder counselors, a list of job responsibilities was illuminated by practitioners from around the country.  The top 5 job responsibilities of a substance abuse counselor include:

  1. Maintaining accurate medical records and case files for each patient
  2. Developing unique treatment plans rooted in research, surveys, clinical experience, and client history
  3. Reviewing and evaluating client progress relative to goals and objectives in treatment plan and/or care plan
  4. Counseling clients to assist to understand addiction, overcoming dependencies, adjust to life, or make behavioral changes
  5. Assessing a client’s mental and physical suitability for program participation

Job Growth, Salary and Related Counseling Fields

Substance abuse and counseling is expected to grow quite rapidly over the next decade, at a clip of 22% or over 3 times the national average.   The average salary for a substance abuse and addiction counselor is approximately $50,000 per year, though individuals in managerial or supervisory positions tend to make significantly more. Individuals with experience or higher levels of education will also earn more, particularly degreed individuals looking for entry level positions.

Top Employers of Substance Abuse Counselors

  • Outpatient Care Centers            22,250
  • Mental Health Facilities            18,240
  • Individual & Family Services    12,560
  • Local Government                        6,620
  • Medical & Surgical Hospitals     5,050

States with the Highest Employment of Drug Counselors

  • California             9,050
  • New York              7,600
  • Pennsylvania       6,730
  • Massachusetts     5,010
  • Florida                  4,440

Top Paying States for a Substance Abuse Counselor

  1. New Mexico     $59,090
  2. Alaska                $54,280
  3. North Dakota   $53,680
  4. New Hersey      $53,490
  5. New York          $50,350

List of Associations for Substance Abuse Counselors

  • American Art Therapy Association (AATA)
  • International Family Therapy Association (IFTA)
  • National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
  • Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy (IIP)
  • International Association of Counseling Services (IACS)
  • American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)
  • International Association of Marriage & Family Counselors (IAMFC)
  • American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA)
  • National Rehabilitation Counseling Association (NRCA)
  • Association of Family And Conciliation Courts (AFCC)

Individuals interested in substance abuse and addiction counseling may also be interested in social worksociology, or criminology.

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