Opioid abuse is becoming an epidemic in the U.S., and the demand for substance abuse counselors is skyrocketing to help deal with the crisis. Find out how a substance abuse counselor degree can teach you how to help people who are suffering through addiction.

Anyone considering becoming a substance abuse counselor probably has some idea of the challenges that they face on a regular basis. Take a look at this rundown of some of the day-to-day duties of a substance abuse counselor career:

  • Evaluating the mental and physical health of clients and assessing their openness to treatment
  • Working with clients and their families to develop treatment goals and plans to reach them
  • Helping clients practice the skills and behaviors necessary to recover from addiction
  • Referring clients to support groups, employment services and other resources

Where do substance abuse counselors work?

Substance abuse and addiction counselors work in treatment centers, while others focus on larger health care facilities. Some substance abuse counselors also work in private practice, either alone or as part of a group of like-minded professionals. Here's a quick list of the most common employers of substance abuse counselors, starting with the largest:

  • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers
  • Individual and family services
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • State, local and private hospitals
  • Government agencies

How to become a substance abuse counselor

Substance abuse counselor degree requirements can vary considerably from state to state. Many states require you to finish at least a bachelor's degree program before seeking work in the field, but others ask for just a high school diploma and an industry certification. Here's a series of general steps you can follow on the road to becoming a substance abuse counselor:

  1. Graduate from high school or earn an equivalency degree
  2. Attend either a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree program in substance abuse counseling, depending on your state's requirements
  3. Earn whatever license or certification your state requires for you to begin practicing

Remember, these are just a general series of steps and not a hard guideline. Make sure to check with your state board to find out all the details as they apply to you. You also may be able to work toward a substance abuse counselor career by attending online college courses, if you need some extra flexibility.

Exams and licensing for substance abuse counselors

Substance abuse counselors often need some form of professional credential, but license and certification details vary by state. You can check the Addiction Technology Transfer Network to find contact information for your state's licensing board.

Important skills and abilities for substance abuse counselors

  • Active listening helps you pay close attention to what clients are saying and give you clues into the best ways to try to help them
  • Oral expression skills make it more likely that you'll be understood when speaking to clients, particularly about sensitive subject matter
  • Social perceptiveness can help you understand the motivations behind your clients' reactions and respond accordingly
  • Deductive reasoning allows you to effectively apply the established guidelines of substance abuse counseling even in unique cases
  • Problem sensitivity gives you a sense of when something is wrong or about to go wrong, which can help you detect potential red flags

Career outlook and salary for substance abuse counselors

Keep in mind that as with any job, pay for substance abuse counselors can vary based on things like location, experience, and education completed. In general, look for the following salary and job growth numbers for substance abuse counselors in the years to come:

Professional organizations for substance abuse counselors

Addiction Counselor

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.

Sports Psychologist

Sometimes, winning is about mind over matter, and sports psychologists are the ones who help athletes harness their inner power.

Registered Nurse (RN)
Article Sources
  • Substance Abuse, Mental Health, and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 28, 2019,
  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Occupational Information Network, accessed March 28, 2019,