Addiction counselors help patients overcome dependencies and cope with the ongoing challenges of recovery. Alcoholism and drug addiction may be the most widely understood conditions that addiction counselors are called upon to treat, but they may also work to help patients overcome eating disorders, compulsive habits of self-harm and other pathogenic imbalances of behavior.
Although every individual position comes with its own specific set of responsibilities, there are a few general duties that most addiction counselors face on a day to day basis:
- Evaluating client health and behavior
- Developing and reviewing treatment goals and plans
- Working with clients to identify and modify problem behaviors
- Preparing patients' loved ones with strategies to assist in recovery
- Referring clients to support groups and other resources
- Conducting public outreach to raise awareness of addiction and its treatments
Some addiction counselors may specialize in helping certain populations, such as veterans or teenagers. Many work in a private office, either independently or as a member of a group of counselors and other professionals, while others work in larger facilities that serve a wide variety of therapeutic needs.
How Much do Addiction Counselors Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), addiction counselors nationwide earned a mean annual salary of $42,920 in 2015. The bottom 10 percent of earners in the field made up to $25,860 the same year, while the top 10 percent took home more than $63,030.
Several factors can affect expected earnings, however, and geographical location can be one of the most significant. Here are some statewide average addiction counselor salary figures for the highest paying states in 2015, according to BLS data:
- New Hampshire: $56,070
- New Mexico: $52,540
- North Dakota: $51,490
- Washington, D.C.: $50,980
The industry in which they find employment can also have an effect on an addiction counselor's salary expectations. Here's BLS salary data for the top four highest paying industries that employed addiction counselors in 2015:
- Junior colleges: $72,520
- Scientific research and development services: $67,380
- Elementary and secondary schools: $55,440
- Ambulatory health care services: $55,360
It's also commonly the case that education and experience can have a strong effect on an addiction counselor salary. When researching campus-based or online psychology schools that offer addiction counselor degrees, it can be helpful to check with a career services advisor and see if they can give you more detailed earnings information.
How Much Training do Addiction Counselors Need?
According to the BLS, addiction counselors' education requirements can range from a high school diploma to a master's degree, depending on the state and setting in which they work. All states require substance abuse counselors to be licensed to work in private practice, however, and the process usually requires the following:
- A master's degree
- 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised experience in a clinical setting
- Satisfactory completion of a state-recognized exam
Addiction counselors who don't intend to work in private practice, however, don't necessarily need to earn an advanced degree. According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), 46 percent of addiction counselors employed in 2014 had in fact earned master's degrees or formal professional credentials, but an additional 19 percent held just bachelor's degrees. The remaining 35 percent were likely to have started out with associate degrees or on-the-job training.
If your state requires that you go the degree route, or if you decide to do so independently, many campus-based and online psychology schools can show you how to become an addiction counselor. Academic programs in the field tend to vary somewhat in the specific courseload they require of students, but there are a few fairly common subjects that you're likely to study on the road to your degree:
- Assessment of addiction
- Treatment planning
- Chemical dependency counseling
- Ethics in human services
- Psychopharmacology of addiction
- Group counseling theories and techniques
- Treatment program management
Fieldwork or clinical experience sections are also common among addiction counseling degree programs. Some graduates of may also choose to earn advanced certifications, such as the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, which may enhance job prospects and increase opportunities for advancement within the field.