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Substance abuse counselors, who are also referred to as Clinical Therapists or Addiction Counselors, play a significant role in a client’s recovery journey at our company. They help people to manage drug or alcohol addiction in a variety of ways, offering insight and advice on what to do throughout long-term recovery. These professionals spend many years acquiring the skills necessary for the role, and they are often driven by an underlying passion for helping others improve their lives. They may have struggled with addiction themselves or they may have seen it firsthand through the experiences of loved ones. Regardless, they want to help others recover.
Substance abuse counselors are needed to help close the treatment gap, which has prevented millions of Americans from receiving the help they need. In 2018, 21.2 million people needed treatment, but only 3.7 million were able to receive it. Fortunately, advances in telehealth have expanded the ability of substance abuse counselors to reach more patients, and their importance is expected to grow even more in the future.
Whether you are interested in becoming a substance abuse counselor or are simply curious about the role, the following is a general overview of job duties, educational requirements, experience and credentials needed.
In general, substance abuse counselors provide resources and knowledge to people struggling with substance use disorders. They teach their clients effective coping mechanisms to deal with their cravings and help them adopt healthier behaviors that replace the misuse of drugs or alcohol. Treatment may include:
Counselors may work in different settings, including recovery centers, detox facilities, sober living facilities, hospitals or clinics. They may treat inpatient clients at the facility and help outpatient clients maintain long-term recovery.
Different types of addiction specialists require varying levels of experience, education and certification. The most common types include:
The degrees, certifications and licenses required vary greatly from one specialty to another, but the typical requirements are as follows.
At a minimum, substance abuse counselors need a bachelor’s degree. However, counselors will need graduate degrees to increase the scope of what they can do, such as providing addiction counseling in their own private practice.
Psychologists, psychiatrists and physicians are doctors, and these roles require medical degrees. Social workers typically require a master’s degree, while recovery coaches and interventionists do not necessarily require a specific degree.
Many graduate degrees require that students receive professional training through an internship or practicum. Additionally, most states require that substance abuse counselors complete a number of supervised training hours before becoming licensed. For example, someone at an undergraduate level may need to spend 4,000 to 10,000 hours working under supervision. Individuals with master’s degrees may need 1,000 to 4,000 hours.
These requirements differ depending on specialty. For example, an addiction medicine physician must complete a residency to receive a medical degree and be eligible for a medical license.
Certifications are provided by The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification and the National Board of Certified Counselors. These are specialty certifications, and many employers require substance abuse counselors to have one.
Generally, a substance abuse counselor can be licensed after receiving their master’s degree. Some states do allow those with undergraduate degrees to receive licenses and work under supervision. However, all states require counselors with private practices to have a master’s degree and license. Additionally, state licensing boards may ask for transcripts, recommendations and information about internships.
Substance abuse counselors are also required to take part in continuing education each year for licensure renewal. These requirements vary from state to state and are usually available on the state licensing board’s website. There are many places to receive continuing education in person or online, including through The Recovery Village.
After receiving a degree, certificate and license, substance abuse counselors will usually search for a place to put their skills to use. There are a few things counselors can expect while starting their careers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for addiction counselors will rise by 22% by 2028, which is over four times the average job growth rate. The median pay in 2018 was around $44,630.
Demand is expected to grow for a few reasons. The criminal justice system is finding people with drug-related crimes are less likely to commit them again if they receive treatment. As a result, many are given mandatory treatment and counseling as part of their sentencing. Additionally, telehealth services are growing in popularity, which allows people in underserved or rural areas to receive much-needed recovery resources.
Certifications, high-level degrees, continued education, letters of recommendation from professors and valuable internship experiences help candidates stand out in the job market. Speaking with professors and attending conferences can help graduates build a network of potential employers.
Online job boards and listings specifically for addiction counselors provide a multitude of opportunities. There is also a growing number of telehealth opportunities that allow counselors to provide online counseling services.
The Recovery Village has locations throughout the United States with open positions available at our facilities and nationally through our telehealth app for substance abuse and behavioral health counselors. Our staff collectively holds over 3,000 professional credentials, and our evidence-based approach to addiction treatment has earned our facilities a variety of accolades. Our organization is accredited by The Joint Commission, one of the leading health care accreditors in the United States. View the most current available positions at our job portal website.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse counselors made a median salary of $44,630 in 2018.
Typically, no additional education or credentials are required to offer counseling services online.
A substance abuse counselor needs at least a bachelor’s degree to perform their duties under supervision and a master’s degree to consider private practice.
Many organizations, including The Recovery Village, offer options for continuing education, either online or at in-person events.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2018 NSDUH Annual National Report.” August 20, 2019. Accessed April 9, 2020.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors.” September 4, 2019. Accessed April 9, 2020.