Chemical Dependency Counselor Careers: Job Description & Salary

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a chemical dependency counseling career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a chemical dependency counselor is right for you.
View available schools

A Chemical Dependency Counselor Career: Pros and Cons

Chemical dependency counselors, also known as substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselors, are responsible for assisting people who have struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol. Read on for some positive and negative aspects of this career.

Pros of a Career as a Chemical Dependency Counselor
Potential to make a difference in clients' lives by helping them come to terms with and overcome their addictions*
Job growth is predicted to rise much faster than the national average (31% expected growth between 2012 and 2022)**
May be able to enter the career with just a high school diploma and on-the-job training**
Can work in various settings, such as prisons, private practices or healthcare facilities**

Cons of a Career as a Chemical Dependency Counselor
Mean annual salary is a bit low (about $41,870 a year, compared to the $47,230 national average)**
Potentially stressful environment*
Have to remain positive and supportive and keep your temper and emotions in check in difficult situations*
Often have large workloads**
Lack of important resources or funding can be an issue**

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

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A career as a chemical dependency counselor involves communicating with clients and monitoring their progress on the road to recovery. You would be responsible for planning and running group meetings, administering drug tests and keeping medical professionals, like doctors and nurses, informed on your clients' progress. In some cases, you may also be required to report to social workers or legal professionals, like lawyers or police officers. Your main job duty is providing support and assistance to your clients and teaching them methods on how to overcome their addictions. You may also offer counseling services and provide information to family members to aid in the healing process.

You might focus on working with certain groups that are vulnerable to chemical dependency problems, like teenagers or veterans. You could also specialize in non-crisis or crisis interventions. As a substance abuse counselor, you can find work in a variety of settings, including prisons, halfway houses, schools, hospitals, probation offices, outpatient centers, mental health programs and government institutions. Furthermore, you might work in private practice.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average income for chemical dependency counselors was around $41,870 as of 2014. This amount may increase if you have multiple years of experience in the field and an advanced degree. The top 10% of substance abuse counselors made around $61,420 per year as of 2014. The BLS expected job growth for this career to be much stronger than the national average, at around 31%, from 2012-2022. Job growth was attributed to the fact that counseling services are now more likely to be covered by insurance plans. In addition, treatment programs are becoming much more common for drug-related crimes, since studies have found that treatment reduces repeat offenses.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

The BLS reports that you could enter this career with just a high school diploma and on-the-job training, though more prestigious positions that involve more responsibility may require a master's degree. In general, your independence in providing counseling will increase with higher education.

Some programs that could prepare you for this career include a certificate in addiction counseling and wellness, an associate's degree in addiction studies, a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling or a master's degree in mental health and substance abuse counseling. Programs tend to be interdisciplinary, covering topics like psychology, sociology, physiology, ethics and case management. Some career-specific subjects you'll likely study are drugs and behavior, neurobiology, addiction prevention, recovery and relapse, assessments and family studies.

Licensure and Certification

Individual states determine whether or not you'll need to obtain licensure or certification to work as a chemical dependency counselor. Though the level of education you need may differ among states, you typically must pass an examination to earn these credentials. Reference your state's counseling certification board for the full details.

If you want to work in private practice, you must become licensed by the state where you live. This requires that you earn a master's degree, complete 2,000-3,000 supervised clinical work hours and pass an examination. To maintain licensure, you'll need to complete continuing education courses yearly.

Important Qualities

As a chemical dependency counselor, you'll need to develop strong interpersonal skills, since your job is focused on understanding and helping others that are going through rough times. To succeed in this career, you should possess the following qualities, per the BLS:

  • Listening
  • Oral communication
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Patience

What Are Employers Looking For?

Since chemical dependency counselor careers vary in responsibilities, employers tend to be very precise about what they are looking for in a potential job candidate. Some employers may request certification, a certain level of education or a particular number of years of experience. The following summaries of online job postings from May 2012 give you a snapshot of what potential employers desire:

  • A behavioral healthcare facility in Missouri was looking someone to supervise and train a staff of other substance abuse counselors. The counselor would also be responsible for ensuring that the most effective treatment plans are being implemented. Potential applicants must be able to work with outside agencies and log all training records accordingly. Substance abuse counselor certification and 3 years of experience were required.
  • In Pennsylvania, a treatment center was seeking a substance abuse counselor who has at least a 2-year degree and 2 years of professional experience. A higher degree could substitute for less experience. Being able to interact with and provide support to families and other loved ones was integral. This position required state certification.
  • In Los Angeles, a mental health services non-profit organization was looking for a state-certified substance abuse counselor who can maintain patient relationships, provide crisis intervention and also work with other departments such as criminal justice, public health and child and family services. At least a year of experience and fluency in Spanish were necessary.

How to Get an Edge in the Job Market

According to the BLS, with higher education, you can take on extra responsibilities and be more self-driven in your work, so employment opportunities would consequently increase. Therefore, you may want to consider earning a bachelor's or master's degree. Plus, with a graduate degree, you also have the option of working in private practice, creating additional job opportunities.

If you go through specialized training, your chance of landing a job may increase, also according to the BLS. You may want to invest time in learning new counseling techniques or enroll in an education program that focuses on a particular group of people, like the youth.

Other Careers to Consider

Social Worker

If you'd like to work closely with clients but you'd enjoy responsibility for a wider range of issues, consider social work. Along with helping clients with emotional or behavioral issues (as a clinical social worker), you could also assist them in solving everyday life problem, like health issues, unemployment or family conflicts. Your duties would involve establishing relationships with clients; collaborating with government, community and healthcare organizations to provide your clients with helpful resources; assessing the efficacy of these resources; and maintaining records. This job, however, can also be stressful.

A bachelor's degree (usually in social work, though a degree in psychology or a related field might be acceptable) is necessary to enter this career. A master's degree in social work and a license are mandatory for clinical social work. For other types of social work, licensing and certification requirements vary by state. The BLS reported that the average salary for a social worker was around $54,000 in 2011, higher than that of a substance abuse counselor. Job growth in this field was expected to grow by 25% from 2010-2020.

School Counselor

If counseling is what your career goal is but the stress of dealing with addictions may be too much for you, working as a school counselor could be a better fit. This position would allow you to work with students to help them develop effective study habits, earn good grades, develop social skills and overcome any behavioral issues. You could focus on the elementary, middle or high school level.

You'll need to earn a master's degree and a state credential (which could be a license, certification or endorsement) to seek employment. In 2011, school counselors earned an average wage of $57,000 per year, according to the BLS. Employment was forecast to increase at a rate about as fast as the national average - at 19% - from 2010-2020, also according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. 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
    2. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. 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
    4. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Psychology - Clinical/Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Post University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Human Services / Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    7. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSEd - Mental Health Counseling
      • MBA Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)

Featured Schools

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?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • MS - Healthcare Management
  • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management

Are you a US citizen?

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?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Psychology - Clinical/Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Post University

  • B.S. in Human Services / Counseling

Education Level:

University of the Southwest

  • MSEd - Mental Health Counseling
  • MBA Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?