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How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor


Becoming a substance abuse counselor can be rewarding, though the hours are long and the pay is often low. However, substance abuse counselors are in high demand and therefore a career in this field can be established quickly. Here are a few steps to enter the world of substance abuse counseling.

What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance abuse or addiction counselors help people who have problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling. They counsel addicts and help patients to overcome their addictions. A counselor may work in public health organizations, drug rehab centers, private practices or hospital settings. There are a number of counseling techniques used by professionals, including individual, group and family counseling.


To become a substance abuse counselor, a person must meet state educational requirements, have a clean legal record and apply for state certification. Because substance counselors are regulated by the state, it is important that an applicant meet the first two criteria.

Substance abuse counselors who wish to open a private practice must have a master’s degree and 2,000-3,000 hours of clinical experience.


The more formal education you have, the less counseling work experience you’ll need to qualify for certification. Additionally, higher degrees often provide higher paying jobs and are needed for promotions within the field.

Skills and Qualities

Counselors in the field of substance abuse must possess excellent communication skills. They must also be compassionate and persistent, as patients in this field are sometimes resistant to treatment. The ability to remain calm in stressful or emergency situations is also an attribute in this career path.

Demand and Salary

There is a strong demand for certified substance abuse counselors, and the need for them is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years. Demand for the job is also increasing because drug offenders are more often being sent to rehabilitation centers than jail.

Despite the high demand in this field, burnout is high because of the generally low wages and long hours. While the average substance abuse counselor earns $38,000 a year, the highest 10 percent earn $60,000. The highest earners are often supervisors holding master’s degrees.

High earners also work for insurance companies and public schools. Many high earners own a private practice.

Source: Inner Body