The Pros and Cons of a Drug and Alcohol Counselor Career
Drug and alcohol counselors help individuals who are coping with substance abuse. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of this position to determine if becoming a drug and alcohol counselor is the right career move for you.
|Pros of a Drug and Alcohol Counselor Career|
|Entering a field with faster-than-average job growth (31% projected between 2012 and 2022)*|
|Possibility for excellent job benefits (sick leave, health insurance, paid vacation)**|
|Jobs are available in a broad range of settings (mental health centers, hospitals, prisons)*|
|Offers the opportunity to pursue private practice*|
|Cons of a Drug and Alcohol Counselor Career|
|Frequent conflict situations, including interaction with violent patients**|
|Pressure to meet strict deadlines**|
|Possibility of exposure to disease via client contact**|
|Evening and weekend work often required*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Iseek.org.
Drug and alcohol counselors perform client evaluations to assess abuse and addiction, as well as determine a course of treatment. They identify behaviors that may hinder recovery and help families learn to deal with the impact that substance abuse has on the addicted individual.
Drug and alcohol counselors also conduct individual and group therapy sessions. They interact with other counselors, healthcare professionals and law enforcement personnel to coordinate services. In this position, you'll also keep records on your clients and may be required to participate in legal proceedings.
Drug and alcohol counselors work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, mental health centers and rehabilitation facilities. Parole agencies, halfway houses, juvenile detention institutions and prisons also employ the services of drug and alcohol counselors.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), drug and alcohol counselors earned a mean annual wage of about $41,870 as of 2014. Job outlook in this field was good, with employment projected to increase around 31% between 2012 and 2022, which was faster than average.
State Licensure or Certification
Standards for employment as a drug and alcohol counselor vary by state. If you want to work in private practice, you'll need to earn a license, according to the BLS. This typically requires a minimum of a master's degree, a significant number of supervised clinical hours and passage of an exam.
If you plan to work outside of private practice, you'll need either licensure or certification (some states offer several levels of certification), depending on the state where you work. This doesn't always require a specific level of education, but you might still need to pass an exam.
Skills needed to be a successful drug and alcohol counselor generally include:
- Inductive and deductive reasoning
- Reading, written and oral comprehension
- Active listening
- Critical thinking
- Good judgment
- Ability to recognize problems
- Service orientation
Job Postings from Real Employers
Some employers require drug and alcohol counselors to have a college degree, while others accept relevant experience. Full- and part-time positions are available. Following are actual job postings that were listed in April 2012:
- The public health department of a large Ohio city wanted to hire three part-time drug and alcohol counselors for its drug and alcohol treatment program. At least two years of experience working full-time in individual and group counseling for adult drug abusers was preferred. Some evening work was required.
- A mental health center in Minnesota sought a part-time drug and alcohol counselor with a bachelor's degree to be on call for referrals. Job duties included assessing clients for chemical dependency and educating them. Candidates needed experience in substance abuse counseling, crisis intervention and computer skills.
- A healthcare service provider in Pennsylvania was looking for a full-time drug and alcohol counselor with a bachelor's or master's degree in a human services discipline to conduct group sessions and develop treatment plans. Applicants needed to have the Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC) credential and at least one year of clinical experience.
How to Gain an Edge in the Field
According to the BLS, job prospects should be especially good for job seekers who have training in a specialized counseling area. You can find bachelor's degree programs that offer specialty training in chemical dependency, addiction and other related areas.
Additionally, you might seek voluntary national certification. The National Certification Commission (NCC) offers several designations for state-licensed or certified substance abuse counselors. These include two levels of National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) certification, as well as the Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) credential. Qualifications include a combination of education and experience and passage of an exam. NCC also offers the Nicotine Dependence Specialist (NDS) credential, which requires at least 85 hours of nicotine dependence training and passage of an exam.
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) also offers a Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) credential. To qualify, you must be a National Certified Counselor (also an NBCC credential) who has completed at least 12 semester hours of graduate-level addictions courses or a minimum of 500 hours of continuing education in addictions, as well as a minimum of three years of at least part-time supervised experience in addictions counseling. You also must pass the Examination for MACs.
Alternate Career Paths
Social or Community Service Manager
If you'd like an occupation with better pay than you're likely to earn as a drug and alcohol counselor, you might think about becoming a social or community service manager. Social and community service managers oversee activities conducted by social service and community programs.
These professionals supervise staff, develop budgets and secure financing. A bachelor's degree is typically required for entry-level positions. According to the BLS, social and community service managers earned a mean annual wage of around $63,000 as of 2011, which was considerably more than drug and alcohol counselors. The job outlook was the same as that for drug and alcohol counselors, with 27% job growth projected between 2010 and 2020.
Social Service Assistant
If you'd like to enter a helping profession, but you aren't interested in going to college, you have the option of becoming a social service assistant. Although some organizations require social service assistants to have a higher education, others are willing to hire candidates with a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
Social service assistants evaluate clients, as well as conduct research to learn the kinds of services that are available to their clients. Services may include food stamps, meal deliveries, childcare or help with personal grooming. Social service assistants earned a mean annual wage of approximately $31,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS. Job growth in this field was projected to be 28% between 2010 and 2020.