Drug & Alcohol Counselor Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a drug and alcohol counselor? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a drug and alcohol counselor is right for you.
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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.

Career Info

Job Duties

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.

Work Settings

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.

Requirements

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

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.

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. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • 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
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Mental Health and Wellness Emphasis in Community Health Administration
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. 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
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Health Care Management
      • Masters in Health Care Administration
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Acute Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Long Term Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Service Organization
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Addictions
      • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - General
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Trauma and Disaster Relief
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Couple Therapy
    Master's
      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy (MAMFT)
      • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    7. 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
    8. 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
    9. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Psy.D. in Mental Health Admin
    Master's
      • MA Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling
      • M.A. in Human Services - Mental Health Admin
      • MA Counseling - Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Home Health Aide

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?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
  • MS in Addiction Counseling
  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Mental Health and Wellness Emphasis in Community Health Administration

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.

Are you a US citizen?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • MBA - Health Care Management
  • Masters in Health Care Administration
  • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Acute Care

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Addictions
  • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
  • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

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?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

What is your highest level of education?