When dependency takes control of a loved one, a trained addiction counselor can help pull them back from the edge. Here's some info on how to become an addiction counselor, including salary expectations, job growth projections and more.

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:

  1. New Hampshire: $56,070
  2. New Mexico: $52,540
  3. North Dakota: $51,490
  4. 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:

  1. Junior colleges: $72,520
  2. Scientific research and development services: $67,380
  3. Elementary and secondary schools: $55,440
  4. 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.

What's the Job Outlook for Addiction Counselors?

The substance abuse counseling field is projected to grow at a much faster rate than the job market overall between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS employment forecast. Approximately 22 percent growth in jobs for addiction counselors is expected over the next several years, more than triple the national occupational growth projection of just 7 percent.

Certain states are projected to see even more growth in addiction counselor jobs than the country as a whole, with some showing astronomical projections of 40 percent growth or more. Here are the five fastest statewide rates of growth for addiction counselor careers, calculated for the period between 2012 and 2022 and published by Career InfoNet:

  1. Kentucky: 42.1 percent
  2. Georgia: 40.9 percent
  3. Utah: 37.5 percent
  4. New Hampshire: 35.9 percent
  5. Arizona: 34.2 percent

The BLS suggests that expanded access to health insurance is one of the driving factors behind the monumental growth in addiction counselor jobs. Despite the flexible education requirements for entry-level positions, job prospects are expected to be best for candidates with bachelor's or master's degrees.

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Article Sources

  1. Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 21, 2016,
  2. Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 21, 2016,
  3. Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors, Occupational Information Network, accessed April 21, 2016,
  4. Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors, Employment Trends by Occupation Across States, accessed April 21, 2016,
  5. Benefits of Certification, National Board for Certified Counselors, accessed April 21, 2016,
  6. School pages, accessed April 21, 2016: Courses, BS in Addictions Counseling, Indiana Wesleyan University,; Courses, Online Master's Degree in Addiction Studies, Capella University,; Addiction Counseling, Courses Offered, Baltimore City Community College,; Curriculum, Addiction Counseling, Montana State University,