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Substance Abuse Counselor Careers

Substance abuse counselors are mental health professionals who support people struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction, or other kinds of self-destructive behavioral problems, like eating disorders. Substance abuse counselors provide therapy, create treatment plans for their patients, and follow them through their recovery processes.

Substance abuse counselors work with people who have recognized their problem and, with the patients' families, who are seeking help for their loved ones. They meet clients to evaluate their problems and help to create recovery goals. They teach clients effective coping mechanisms and encourage them along their rehabilitation process toward a functional life. They help them secure a job and assist them in creating and maintaining relationships.

Counselors often specialize in working with a certain age group or area of substance abuse. Holding a Master's degree in counseling or social work will increase your job opportunities, but this is not an exclusive requirement everywhere. Substance abuse counselors often work in hospitals or outpatient mental health centers, but running a private practice is also common.

What Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Do

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help the client recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Duties

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically do the following:

  • Evaluate clients’ mental and physical health, addiction, or problem behavior and assess their readiness for treatment
  • Help clients develop treatment goals and plans
  • Review and recommend treatment options with clients and their families
  • Help clients develop skills and behaviors necessary to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
  • Teach families about addiction or behavior disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
  • Refer clients to other resources and services, such as job placement services and support groups
  • Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problems with family and friends.

Some addiction counselors work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. Addiction counselors may work with psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, and registered nurses to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.

Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Some substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work in private practice, where they work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals. These counselors manage their practice as a business. This includes working with clients and insurance companies to receive payment for their services. In addition, they market their practice to bring in new clients.

How To Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Most positions require a bachelor’s degree. However, depending on the employer, educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree.

Education

Most positions require a bachelor’s degree. However, depending on the employer, educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Workers with more education are able to provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education. Those interested should research their state’s educational requirements.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The licensure or certification criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require a specific degree, but many require applicants to pass an exam. Contact information for your state’s licensing board can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors must be able to work with different types of people. They spend most of their time working directly with clients or other professionals and must be able to develop and nurture good relationships.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. They need to give their full attention to a client to be able to understand that client’s problems and values.

Patience. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors must be able to remain calm when working with all types of clients, including those who may be distressed or angry.

Speaking skills. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors need to be able to effectively communicate with clients. They must express ideas and information in a way that their clients easily understand.

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Average Salary
$42,499
Average Salary
Job Openings
41,244
Job Openings

Substance Abuse Counselor Career Paths

Top Careers Before Substance Abuse Counselor

Counselor
11.9 %

Top Careers After Substance Abuse Counselor

Counselor
13.4 %
Therapist
10.6 %

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance Abuse Counselors in America make an average salary of $42,499 per year or $20 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $55,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $32,000 per year.
Average Salary
$42,499

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Asheville, NC
Salary Range35k - 54k$44k$44,251
Phoenix, AZ
Salary Range34k - 55k$44k$43,689
Winchester, VA
Salary Range35k - 53k$43k$43,268
Boston, MA
Salary Range34k - 53k$43k$42,647
Atlanta, GA
Salary Range34k - 53k$43k$42,634
White Plains, NY
Salary Range34k - 52k$42k$42,314
$28k
$55k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance Abuse Counselor
Spectrum Health Systems, Inc.
Spectrum Health Systems, Inc.
01/23/2021
01/23/2021
$32,00001/23/2021
$32,000
Substance Abuse Counselor-Licensed
Substance Abuse Counselor-Licensed
Management & Training Corporation
Management & Training Corporation
01/23/2021
01/23/2021
$50,61001/23/2021
$50,610
Substance Abuse Counselor, SR.
Substance Abuse Counselor, SR.
Geo Group Inc.
Geo Group Inc.
01/21/2021
01/21/2021
$40,63401/21/2021
$40,634
*Extended Deadline* Substance Abuse Counselor I/II-Sheriff's Office
*Extended Deadline* Substance Abuse Counselor I/II-Sheriff's Office
County of Humboldt
County of Humboldt
01/15/2021
01/15/2021
$36,08401/15/2021
$36,084
Substance Abuse Counselor COC
Substance Abuse Counselor COC
Geo Group Inc.
Geo Group Inc.
01/13/2021
01/13/2021
$31,30501/13/2021
$31,305
See More Recent Salaries

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Substance Abuse Counselor Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Substance Abuse Counselor Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Substance Abuse Counselor resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Substance Abuse Counselor Demographics

Gender

female

63.0 %

male

32.5 %

unknown

4.5 %

Ethnicity

White

65.9 %

Black or African American

14.4 %

Hispanic or Latino

11.6 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

77.7 %

French

6.8 %

Portuguese

2.8 %
See More Demographics

Substance Abuse Counselor Education

Majors

Degrees

Masters

45.7 %

Bachelors

32.7 %

Associate

9.1 %

Top Colleges for Substance Abuse Counselors

1. California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$6,798
Enrollment
31,503

2. Hunter College of the City University of New York

New York, NY • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,182
Enrollment
16,205

3. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

4. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238

5. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

6. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

7. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

8. SUNY at Albany

Albany, NY • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,011
Enrollment
13,434

9. San Jose State University

San Jose, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,796
Enrollment
27,125

10. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Substance Abuse Counselor

Best States For a Substance Abuse Counselor

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a substance abuse counselor. The best states for people in this position are Alaska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Mississippi. Substance abuse counselors make the most in Alaska with an average salary of $50,574. Whereas in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, they would average $47,644 and $47,391, respectively. While substance abuse counselors would only make an average of $46,912 in Mississippi, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Alaska

Total Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs:
136
Highest 10% Earn:
$64,000
Location Quotient:
1.64
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Rhode Island

Total Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs:
124
Highest 10% Earn:
$71,000
Location Quotient:
1.03
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Nebraska

Total Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs:
208
Highest 10% Earn:
$65,000
Location Quotient:
0.94
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Substance Abuse Counselor Employers

1. Gateway Foundation
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$41,147
Substance Abuse Counselors Hired: 
162+
2. Geo Group
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$40,189
Substance Abuse Counselors Hired: 
109+
3. Windsor Laurelwood Center for Behavioral Medicine
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$41,138
Substance Abuse Counselors Hired: 
97+
4. WestCare
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$46,670
Substance Abuse Counselors Hired: 
96+
5. Narco Freedom
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$40,614
Substance Abuse Counselors Hired: 
88+
6. Colonial Group
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$40,432
Substance Abuse Counselors Hired: 
88+

Substance Abuse Counselor Videos

Updated October 2, 2020