Becoming a Drug Counselor: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a drug counselor career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a drug counselor is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Drug Counselor

Drug counselors, also called substance abuse counselors, addictions counselors or drug and alcohol counselors, help individuals who struggle with addiction. Look at these pros and cons to see if this career is for you.

PROS of Becoming a Drug Counselor
Job openings expected to exceed the number of job applicants (31% job growth from 2012-2022)*
Can qualify for a civilian military position with a license from any state and appropriate education**
Some states only require a high school diploma***
Allows you to help people change their lives for the better*

CONS of Becoming a Drug Counselor
May require a master's degree*
A license may be required*
Salary is lower than the national average (drug counselors made a $41,000 mean wage in 2013)*
Limited career advancement available***
May involve heavy caseloads and large amounts of paperwork***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Army News Service, ***The Together Family Foundation.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a drug counselor, your main job duty is providing support to patients and working with them to overcome their addictions to dangerous substances. You'll talk with them and provide constructive advice on overcoming urges and dealing with life's problems without having to succumb to using substances. You may work with patients one-on-one, or you may work in a group setting. Usually, drug counselors work within a recovery program and may provide outpatient services or work with individuals who have chosen to receive inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation center. Some hold civilian positions on U.S. military bases and help soldiers with their substance problems. Besides counseling patients, you may also work with your patients' friends and family, counseling them on how to cope with and help their loved one.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors would grow 31% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). This is attributed to more individuals seeking help for addictions and changes in sentencing that will send them to counseling instead of prison.

In 2014, the BLS reported that the mean wage for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $41,870. The 10th-90th percentile range earned $25,000-$61,000. The top-paying industry was junior colleges, where the mean wage was $63,860.

Education and Training Requirements

Typically, for licensing or certification, you'll need a college degree in counseling or a related area, such as social work or psychology. Individual employers and states have different educational requirements, so you'll need to check on exact requirements. In New York, for example, you don't need a college education if you meet work experience requirements. At the entry level, you may get some on-the-job training or work as a trainee. Most states have some type of licensing requirements for counselors, but substance abuse counselor requirements vary greatly. Skills and qualities needed to work in this profession include:

  • Patience
  • Trustworthiness
  • Confidentiality
  • Ethical standards
  • Stress management

Job Postings from Real Employers

Job postings from March 2012 showed that employers were looking for individuals who can handle a variety of counseling settings, such as group and individual, understand documentation requirements and be willing to attend ongoing training. Specifically, employers wanted the following:

  • A behavioral healthcare service provider in Pennsylvania was seeking someone with one year of clinical experience and a bachelor's or master's degree in a human services area.
  • A human services agency in Wisconsin was looking for someone with a bachelor's degree in a field related to social work, counseling or psychology and a state license as a social worker or certified substance abuse counselor.
  • A behavioral health company in Pennsylvania wanted to hire someone with three years of clinical experience and a bachelor's degree in a field such as chemical dependency, psychology or social work.

How to Maximize Your Skills

One of the ways to make yourself more attractive to employers is to seek certification. To earn the Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) designation from the National Board of Certified Counselors, you'll need to first earn the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation, which is intended for general counselors. You'll also need to pass the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors, complete graduate-level college coursework or continuing education hours in addictions and have three years of experience in addictions counseling.

To earn the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) designation from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, you must pass the CRC exam, graduate from an accredited program and possibly meet experience requirements, depending on your college degree.

Other Fields to Consider

If you aren't satisfied with the low pay of a drug counselor, you might consider alternative career options. Similar careers that allow you to continue to help people and make their lives better include social worker and health educator.

Social Worker

As a social worker, you'll help people to improve their lives by offering assistance from government or other social welfare programs. You may assist them with finding work or with securing proper medical care. Social workers need a bachelor's degree and must meet licensing requirements; some positions require a master's degree. According to the BLS, social workers specializing in mental health and substance abuse earned a mean wage of $39,000 in 2011.

Health Educator

Health educators develop wellness programs and educate the public to promote health and prevent illness and disease in communities. This field usually requires a bachelor's degree at the entry level. Jobs for health educators were projected to increase 37% from 2010-2020, and the mean wage for this position was $52,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Psy.D. in Mental Health Admin
      • 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
    2. 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
    3. 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
    4. 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
    5. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Home Health Aide
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master in Business Administration - Health Services Administration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
      • HS Diploma with Focus in Health Care
  • Online Programs Available
    9. 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
    10. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      • MS in Healthcare Administration
      • MSM in Healthcare
      • MS in Nursing: Patient Quality and Safety
    Bachelor's
      • BA Human Services Substance Abuse
      • BA in Psychology - Addictions
      • BA in Psychology - Mental Health
      • BA in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • BS Business Admin w/conc in Healthcare Administration
      • BS Health Science

Featured Schools

University of the Rockies

  • Psy.D. in Mental Health Admin
  • MA Counseling
  • MA Counseling - Clinical Mental Health Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

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?

Kaplan University

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

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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.

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Health Care Management

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma - Home Health Aide

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • Master in Business Administration - Health Services Administration
  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma
  • HS Diploma with Focus in Health Care

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