Addictions Counselor: Job Description & Career Info

Oct 20, 2021

Whether it's alcohol or prescription drugs, an addictions counselor can help you conquer whatever addiction dominates you. The education options differ by place of employment and specialization, but undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available. Most employers require experience and licensure, and certification can be obtained through exams and field work.

Essential Information

Addictions counselors help patients overcome personal addiction problems. Requirements vary, with some states allowing high school graduates with certifications to become counselors and others requiring candidates to have a master's degree.

Required Education Varies by state from a high school diploma to a master's degree
Other Requirements State license or certification typically required
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 25% for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
Median Annual Salary (2020)* $47,660 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Addictions Counselor Job Description

Addictions counselors work with patients suffering from substance abuse problems and other addictions such as gambling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), addictions counselors develop recovery programs and coping strategies to avoid relapses ( In addition to counseling addicts, they may conduct sessions with family members and friends. In serious cases, they may refer a patient to a psychiatrist or other medical professional.

Career Outlook

The BLS indicated that employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase 25% from 2019-2029, which is significantly faster than average. As awareness of the benefits of counseling has grown, more individuals have sought these counselors' services. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, both government agencies and employers now fund drug treatment programs ( Another factor spurring the growth of addictions counseling is that many states are referring non-violent and first-time drug offenders to treatment rather than prison.

Salary Information

The BLS reported that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a median wage of $47,660 annually in May, 2020, with most earning salaries between $30,590 and $78,700. The highest-paying industries included business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations and insurance carriers.

Becoming an Addictions Counselor

Educational requirements for addictions counselors vary depending on the type of certification they wish to attain. Individuals may earn initial certifications with a certificate or associate's degree. More advanced levels of certification typically require a bachelor's or master's degree. In addition to coursework, extensive clinical experience is typically a requirement.

Education Information

Certificate and associate's degree programs include foundational coursework in addictive behaviors and treatments. Some courses may be directed toward children and families or specific addictions such as alcohol. Students at the bachelor's degree level may consider addiction studies, psychology, behavioral science or related majors. These curricula offer coursework relevant to addictions counseling, including decision making, human development, applied statistics and social psychology.

Master's degree programs in substance abuse and addiction counseling are available, and some clinical psychology and mental health counseling programs may also offer an addictions counseling concentration. Graduate-level curricula include advanced topics in the diagnosis and treatment of addicts. Students may be required to complete a research project prior to graduating.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience through a practicum or internship places students in healthcare facilities where they are supervised by licensed professionals. Students gain hands-on experience with patients and receive feedback on their performance. Internships may last up to a year and count toward experience requirements for certification and licensure.

Licensing Requirements

Addictions counselors working in a private practice are required to be licensed. Educational and experience requirements for licensure differ by state but often include completing a postsecondary degree and accruing a set number of contact hours. In addition, a written certifying exam may be required. Some states allow counselors who have earned a license in another state to transfer their credentials and work without repeating the entire licensing process.


The Association for Addiction Professionals, formerly the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, offers several certifications in the field ( As individuals gain more education and experience, they qualify for advanced-level certifications. The first credential offered is the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level 1, which requires a state license and either three years or 6,000 hours of experience.

The National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) credentials ( Individuals interested in earning a MAC credential must first hold the NCC. Each of these credentials requires a master's degree, experience and a passing score on a certifying exam.

An addictions counselor may find work in rehab centers, schools, and medical facilities, among other places. They assist clients in fighting and coping with their addictions. Addictions counselors must have clinical experience and be licensed and possess a college degree at minimum, although, many positions demand a master's degree.

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