Those who are interested in becoming drug and alcohol counselors can enroll in a variety of degree programs that lead to state licensure, including associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in substance abuse counseling. These programs emphasize hands-on training through internships, capstone projects and field experiences. Each program meets the education requirements needed to obtain a state license as a substance abuse counselor. Graduates can also sit for national certification exams offered through the National Association of Alcoholism and Addiction Counselors.
To be admitted into a 2-year associate program or a 4-year bachelor program, students should submit their high school diploma or equivalent. For 2-year master's programs, students will need a bachelor's degree, GRE scores, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and resumes to apply for admission.
Associate in Applied Science in Substance Abuse Counseling
Substance abuse counselors assess and treat patients who struggle with chemical dependency, and their jobs include developing individualized treatment plans and counseling services. The curriculum combines human services courses in topics like social work and disabilities awareness with substance abuse courses that introduce patterns and causes of addiction.
Students develop ethical counseling practices, explore ways to promote recovery and assist patients in maintaining sobriety. Toward the close of the program, students participate in an internship in a drug and alcohol treatment unit where they gain hands-on experience working with substance abuse counselors and patients.
Students learn to interview clients, evaluate their needs and aid in coming to terms with the importance of treatment. Topics of discussion in the program include the following:
- Counseling skills
- Drug abuse
- Group counseling
- Client management
Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling
The curriculum explores substance abuse as a disease that can be treated with a combination of counseling and behavioral therapy. Students prepare to take on roles as substance abuse counselors by studying counseling and addiction theories, neurobiology and pharmacology. Topics of discussion include group therapy, stress management, abnormal behavior and counseling skills. Students attend addiction seminars and complete an internship working with substance abusers at a partnered facility.
Coursework covers a broad range of subjects that are consistent with substance abuse disorders, including child abuse, domestic violence and family crises. Courses in the program include topics such as the following:
- Dual diagnosis
- Family counseling
Master of Science in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling
The curriculum combines the study of alcohol and substance abuse addiction with field training in substance abuse counseling. Graduate students learn to assess clients and identify addictive patterns of behavior, including the social and psychological origins of addiction. Coursework explores ways to improve the psychological health and overall functioning of an addicted client, along with methods for achieving sobriety and circumventing relapse. Students complete a graduate thesis or capstone project and supervised field experiences toward the close of the program.
Students are required to conduct a substantial amount of academic research, including coursework in research design, analysis and statistics. Other topics that are covered include those listed below:
- Addiction prevention
- Physiology of addiction
- Counseling theory
- Counseling ethics
- Mental illness diagnosis
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors held 319,400 jobs in the U.S. in 2018 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that jobs in this profession were expected to grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029. The median annual salary for a substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselor in 2019 was $46,240, per the BLS.
Licensing and Continuing Education Information
Graduates are eligible to become certified alcohol and drug counselors through state licensing boards. Education and licensing requirements vary by state. The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals, a body of the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), offers certification to counselors who obtain a state license in substance abuse counseling and have three years of experience. These individuals are eligible to take the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I exam.
Graduates who have a state license and five years of work experience can sit for NAADAC's National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II exam.
After completing a master's degree, graduates who hold a state license and have at least three years of work experience are eligible to sit for NAADAC's Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) exam. Graduates might also consider pursuing a doctoral (Ph.D.) program in counseling psychology or community and behavioral health if they're interested in careers in research or academia.
To become a drug and alcohol counselor, there are programs at all education levels that are sure to suit the needs of any individual hoping to develop their skills in this field.