How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors advise clients who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health issues, eating disorders, and related mental and behavioral problems. They offer support and treatment to clients in their recovery from addiction.

Substance abuse counselors work with clients one-on-one and in groups. Many counselors use 12-step programs, such as AA’s program, to guide their work. Counselors teach clients how to deal with stress and the problems of life without relying on drugs or alcohol.

They also help their clients to rebuild their professional relationships, and if needed, reestablish their career. Counselors also help their clients improve personal relationships and find effective ways to discuss their addiction problem with friends and family.

Are you thinking about a career as a substance abuse counselor? Please use this page as a resource to learn about what these counselors do, where they work, how to become one, and more.

What Is Substance Abuse Counseling?

A substance abuse counselor helps patients to get over their addiction to alcohol, drugs, and destructive behaviors like overeating and gambling. A substance abuse counselor will intervene when the person is at their lowest point in the addiction struggle. A substance abuse counselor may also work with the addict’s family to speed the healing process. (

Substance abuse counselors often work in outpatient facilities, halfway houses, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals.

The primary purpose of substance abuse counseling is to address the underlying causes of the addiction and prevent them from leading to relapse.

Sponsored Content

What Do Substance Abuse Counselors Do?

The most common duties of substance abuse counselors are: (

  • Evaluate the mental and physical health needs of the client, as well as their addiction problem to assess readiness for treatment.
  • Develop, recommend, and review substance abuse treatment goals and plans with clients and families.
  • Help clients to develop skills and behaviors needed to recover from their addiction or change their behavior.
  • With the substance abuse client to pinpoint situations and behaviors that interfere with recovery.
  • Teach family members about behavior disorders and addiction to help them to devise strategies to cope with these problems.
  • Refer substance abuse clients to other services and resources, including support groups and job placement services.

Where Do Substance Abuse Counselors Work?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 22% of substance abuse counselors work in outpatient facilities. A substance abuse counselor’s specialization affects where he works.

For example, a counselor who specializes in working with children and teenagers could work for the school district in a high school. Some counselors work for hospitals, and some work in private practice. Substance abuse counselors also may work in jails or prisons. (

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports these counselor work in these areas:

  • Individual and family services: 16%
  • Hospitals: 10%
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities; 10%
  • Government: 9%

BLS further notes that these professionals work in halfway houses, detox centers, or in employee assistance programs.

What Is the Job Outlook for Substance Abuse Counselors?

Employment for substance abuse counselors will increase 22% by 2028, much faster than average. Growth in this profession is expected as people will seek more addiction counseling services to live more productive lives as they age.

Demand for substance abuse counselors is rising also because states want treatment and rehabilitation for minor drug offenders instead of jail time. The justice system has found that drug abuse addicts respond better to treatment than years in jail. Research indicates that substance abuse programs are more cost-effective than jail. (

How Can You Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Most substance abuse counselor jobs require a bachelor’s degree in psychology, mental health counseling, or addiction counseling. But depending on the state and employers, educational standards for substance abuse counselors can range from a high school diploma and substance abuse counselor certification to a master’s degree. (

What Is the Job Outlook for Substance Abuse Counselors?

Employment for substance abuse counselors will rise by 22% by 2028, which is much faster than other occupations. Employment is expected to grow as people are looking for addiction and mental health counseling services to live more productive lives.

Demand for substance abuse counselors also is rising because states want treatment and counseling services for minor drug offenders rather than years in jail. The criminal justice system has concluded that drug criminals are less likely to offend again if they get treatment for their drug addiction.

Sentencing for drug offenses often requires the offender to go to treatment and counseling programs. Substance abuse programs can be more cost-effective than incarceration and states often use them to reduce recidivism rates. (

How Can You Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Most substance abuse counselor positions require a bachelor’s degree. But depending on your state and company, educational requirements for this profession can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree in psychology or addiction counseling.

Professionals with master’s degrees in psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling,m and related master’s degrees can offer more services to substance abuse clients.

Sponsored Content

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

Substance abuse counselors in private practice must hold a license. Licensing standards vary by state, but all states do require counselors to have a master’s degree and 2000-4000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Also, all counselors must pass a state examination and complete continuing education annually. To determine the specific licensing criteria for your state, review the information at the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Licensure standards for substance abuse counselors not in private practice varies by state. For instance, not all states mandate applicants to have a specific college degree, but many require them to pass an examination.

Becoming a substance abuse counselor will allow you to help people to overcome their problems and to reduce the issues of crime and addiction in our society. Review the online master’s programs on this site in psychology and substance abuse counseling to determine which is the right one for you to pursue your new career.