Substance Abuse Counselor

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What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance abuse counselors, otherwise known as drug and alcohol counselors, work with people who struggle with chemical dependency and addiction. Substance abuse is a rapidly growing epidemic in the United States. The need is great and will continue to grow for substance abuse counselors who can offer hope and healing to those suffering from drug and alcohol dependency and addiction as well as their family members.

Substance abuse counselors help their clients identify, understand, and change damaging behaviors and problems that are related to substance abuse. They teach their clients how to cope with life’s challenges in a healthy way and to establish a consistent recovery program.

In addition, substance abuse counselors are able to provide psychological and medical treatment to clients if they have:

  1. earned the needed bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral Degree in Substance Use Disorder/Addiction or related counseling subjects like social work, mental health counseling, psychology
  2. have passed the appropriate certification tests
  3. completed the required hours to obtain their practicing license

Where Do Substance Abuse Counselors Work?

Most substance abuse counselors work in the following locations:

  • Rehabilitation centers: Range of positions from small group-discussion facilitator and one-on-one counseling
  • Hospitals: Clinics and urgent care settings
  • Schools: Teach in collegiate academic settings. May require a doctoral degree
  • Methadone and detox centers: Range of positions including one-on-one counseling

U.S. National Drug and Alcohol Use Statistics

There is no doubt that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is a growing problem in the United States. Addiction is devastating lives, tearing families apart, and disrupting careers.

In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 48.5 million Americans ages 12 and older admitted to having used an illicit drug the previous year; that is also 15% of the total U.S. population (323 million). Additionally, 65.3 million people, ages 12 and up reported “binge alcohol use” in the past month and 16.3 million reported “heavy alcohol use” in the past month.

Substance Abuse Counselor Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse counseling, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling are emerging professions with a projected growth rate of 20% between 2016-2026. This growth is much faster than the average of other U.S. career growth rates. This employment growth will add approximately 51,600 new positions.

Substance Abuse Counselor Salaries

The average salaries shown below are for general substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. The lower 10% of substance abuse counselors make an annual wage of $26,200 and the upper 90% make about $65,000. The salaries below exclude Social Workers, Psychologists, and Mental Health Counselors who also provide substance abuse services.

Substance Abuse Counselor Career Opportunities

  • Chemical Dependency Counselor
  • Substance Abuse Center Director (Hosp. Op.)
  • Genetics Counselor
  • EAP Counselor
  • Lean-Officer/Counselor
  • Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Counselor – Higher Ed.
  • Financial Counselor – Healthcare
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Career Counselor – Higher Ed.

As demonstrated above, there is a wide range of career paths for substance abuse counselors. Before navigating into the field, it is important for people to consider their temperament. People who have empathy, patience, and excellent social skills will have a much higher level of job satisfaction in this field. Helping struggling people find their way is an extremely rewarding experience for people that enjoy public service.

Education and Licensure Requirements

Education requirements for substance abuse counselors vary by state and even treatment setting. Training and degree programs provide a rich foundation as well as exposure to required chemical dependency training modules and psychology theories.

A good way to get your start into the field of substance abuse counseling is to become a Certified Substance Use Disorder Counselor (CSUDC). To do this, you typically must have a high school diploma and complete specific training and a number of training hours, and pass an exam. Next, you can become a Substance Use Disorder Counselor (SUDC), which requires a bachelor’s degree, more training hours, as well as another certification exam.

To become a licensed substance abuse counselor that is able to provide psychological or medical therapy, you typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s or doctorate degree, in substance use disorder/addiction and/or a related counseling subject like social work, mental health counseling, or psychology.

Here is the complete breakdown of substance abuse certification requirements according to National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals website.

National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I (NCAC I)

  • GED, High School diploma, or higher.
  • Current credential or license as a Substance Use Disorder/Addiction counselor issued by a state or credentialing authority.
  • At least three years full-time or 6,000 hours of supervised experience as a Substance Use Disorder/Addiction counselor.
  • At least 270 contact hours of education and training in Substance Use Disorders/Addiction or related counseling subjects. At least 50% of training hours must be face-to-face.
    • Must include at least six hours of ethics training and six hours of HIV/other pathogens training within the last six years.
  • Passing score on the NCAC I examination within four years of the application.

National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II (NCAC II)

  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher in Substance Use Disorder/Addiction and/or related counseling subjects (social work, mental health counseling, psychology) from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning.
  • Current credential or license as a Substance Use Disorder/Addiction counselor issued by a state or credentialing authority.
  • At least five years full-time or 10,000 hours of supervised experience as a Substance Use Disorder/Addiction counselor.
  • At least 450 contact hours of education and training in Substance Use Disorder/Addiction. At least 50% of training hours must be face-to-face.
    • Must include at least six hours of ethics training and six hours of HIV/other pathogens training within the last six years.
  • Passing score on the NCAC II examination within four years of the application.

Master Addiction Counselor (MAC)

  • Master’s Degree or higher in Substance Use Disorders/Addiction and/or related counseling subjects (social work, mental health counseling, psychology) from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning.
  • Current credential or license as a Substance Use Disorder/Addiction counselor or Professional Counselor (social worker, mental health, marriage & family, professional counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, medical doctor) issued by a state or credentialing authority.
  • At least three years full-time or 6,000 hours of supervised experience as a Substance Use Disorder/Addiction counselor.
  • At least 500 contact hours of education and training in Substance Use Disorder/Addiction. At least 50% of training hours must be face-to-face.
    • Must include at least six hours of ethics training and six hours of HIV/other pathogens training within the last six years.
  • Passing score on the MAC examination within four years of the application.

State Licensure Requirements

State licensing requirements for substance abuse counseling varies by state. Be sure you know the needed requirements of the state in which you plan to work before you enroll in programs or work toward certifications.

The standards vary greatly by state, as you can see in the table below that shows substance abuse counseling licensure requirements for New York, California, and Florida. Other state’s requirements are available here.

Substance Abuse Counselor Licensure Requirements by State

StateEducationTotal Work Experience Hours RequiredOversight During InternshipExam
New York350 hours, including 85 hours regarding substance abuse content and 150 in substance abuse counseling
  • 6,000 if no college degree
  • 5,000 if Associate’s Degree
  • 2,000 if Bachelor’s Degree
  • 0 for Master’s Degree
300 hours and 3 professional evaluationsState exam
California155 hours of classroom education plus 9 hours of introductory courseworkDepends on the 5 Boards that provide certification: could be 2,240 hours in a state-licensed facility, 5 years experience (no Master’s), and others depending on level of educationVaries by agencyVaries by agency
Florida250 hours of training including 120 hours on addiction and practice
  • 6,000 if high school graduate
  • 4,000 if Associate’s degree
300 if high school graduate; 150 hours with associate degreeState Exam

Private Practice for Substance Abuse Counselors

To open a private practice in substance abuse counseling, which is the most lucrative career option in the field, states require you to have a master’s degree. Following a master’s degree, national and state licensing exams must also be passed, followed by supervised internships.

Sources:

  • www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends
  • https://www.uvu.edu/besc/sudc.html
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm
  • https://www1.salary.com/
  • careersinpsychology.org/employment-outlook-guidance-substance-abuse-counselors/

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