Becoming an Addictions Counselor: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an addictions counselor career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook information and salary statistics to determine if a career as an addictions counselor is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of an Addictions Counselor Career

As an addictions counselor, you'll evaluate addictions and develop treatment goals for clients. Addictions counselors often coordinate their efforts with mental health professionals or social workers to help clients overcome dependencies. You'll work in a wide variety of settings in your career as an addictions counselor, and you might work with large groups or with individual clients. Keep reading if you'd like to learn more about the pros and cons of a career as an addictions counselor.

Pros of an Addictions Counselor Career
Help people overcome crippling dependencies*
Some jobs only require a high school diploma*
Robust job outlook (31% job growth from 2012-2022)*
Flexibility of job location*

Cons of an Addictions Counselor Career
Some jobs require as much as a master's degree*
Must maintain composure in stressful situations**
Must sometimes deal with agitated clients*
Some positions require long hours or on-call duty*
Frustration may arise from clients who don't respond to treatment**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Information

Job Duties

In addition to formulating treatment plans and reviewing client progress, addictions counselors must also keep accurate and up-to-date reports regarding client histories and services provided. They also work with clients' families to help them understand and cope with the problems caused by addictions or dependencies. While working as an addictions counselor, you might also refer clients to job placement services and various types of support groups.

Addictions counselors sometimes plan follow-up care for clients when they are ready to be discharged from treatment programs. These plans are often made in cooperation with social workers or assorted health professionals. Addictions counselors also conduct outreach programs to help educate people about substance abuse and other destructive behaviors and how to avoid them. You may work in a hospital, residential mental health facility, private practice or in a government organization.

Salary and Job Outlook

Employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects overall employment of these counselors to increase by 31% from 2012-2022, which is significantly faster than the average for all occupations. Salaries vary quite a bit, and as of May 2014, the BLS reported a mean annual salary of $41,870 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Those working in hospitals earned an average salary of $44,660, while counselors involved with individual and family services had a mean annual salary of $40,330.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

Educational requirements vary significantly for addictions counselors depending on the setting, type of work performed and state regulations. While some positions require only a high school diploma with on-the-job training, counselors with more advanced educations can provide more services. Having a more advanced education (particularly a master's degree) can allow counselors to work in one-on-one settings with little, if any, supervision.

Addictions counselors working in private practice must also be licensed. Requirements for becoming licensed include a master's degree and 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Counselors must also pass a state-recognized exam. Continuing education requirements must also be met on a yearly basis. Working as an addictions counselor outside of private practice may not require a degree, but many states do require licensing exams.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Depending on your education and experience, you might find work as an addictions counselor in a wide array of settings. Although education requirements will vary, employers typically look for applicants with experience and excellent communication skills. Below are real job postings from April 2012, which give you an idea of the expectations of various types of employers.

  • A behavioral health facility in Massachusetts seeks a substance abuse counselor to provide therapy for individuals, families and couples. A master's degree and current licensure are required for the position. Less than one year of experience is required.
  • A non-profit outpatient substance abuse program in Philadelphia is looking for a substance abuse counselor to facilitate group therapy and individual sessions. A minimum of a bachelor's degree in counseling, psychology, social work or criminal justice is required. One year of experience in substance abuse/behavioral health is also required. Associate's degree candidates will also be considered depending on experience.
  • An outpatient residential facility in California seeks a substance abuse counselor to work with and supervise clients. Responsibilities include client screening, client and family orientation, development of treatment plans and case management. The position requires at least a high school diploma along with two to three years of progressive experience coordinating social services. An associate's degree or higher in behavioral science is preferred.

Standing out in the Field

If you want to pursue one-on-one counseling with little supervision, earning an advanced degree and becoming a licensed counselor is your best bet. For almost any addictions counselor position, a master's degree in social work or psychology can be very beneficial. Beyond state licensing requirements, there are also certifications that can help you stand out from other counselors. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NCC) offers several credentials that can enhance your professional profile. Some examinations offered by the NCC can be used for both national certification and state counselor licensure.

Alternative Career Options

Social Worker

If you want to help people but don't feel comfortable dealing with substance abuse and addictions, you might want to consider a career as a social worker. Social workers help people cope with problems in their everyday lives. Most direct-service social worker positions require a bachelor's degree, while some clinical jobs require an advanced degree. The BLS projects faster than average job growth for social workers, with a 25% increase from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, social workers earned an average annual salary of $54,000, says the BLS.

Mental Health Counselor

Working as a mental health counselor involves helping people manage or overcome mental and emotional disorders. Mental health counselor positions generally require a master's degree. Overall employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow by 37% during 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the BLS reported a mean annual salary of $43,000 for mental health counselors.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
      • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    3. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Psychology - Addications
      • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - General
      • PhD in Psychology - Trauma & Disaster Relief
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Couple Therapy
    Master's
      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
      • MAMFT - Child & Adolescent Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - LGBTQ Couple & Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - Military Family Therapy
      • MS - Forensic Psychology (MSPSYFS)
  • Online Programs Available
    5. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • MS in Addiction Counseling
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Prevention
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
      • Pastoral Community Counseling (EdD)
    Master's
      • Clinical Psychology (MA)
      • Forensic Psychology/Psychophysiology (MA)
      • Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA)
      • Forensic Psychology (MA)
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. City University of Seattle

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. Healthcare Administration
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Healthcare Administration
    Certificate
      • Chemical Dependency Counseling

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Addictions
  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Bachelor: Health and Wellness

Which subject are you interested in?

American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Addications
  • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
  • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • Graduate Certificate in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • MS in Addiction Counseling
  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
  • Pastoral Community Counseling (EdD)
  • Clinical Psychology (MA)
  • Forensic Psychology/Psychophysiology (MA)

What is your highest level of education completed?