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. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • MS in Educational Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
      • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Psychology - Clinical/Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    3. 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
      • 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
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Community Mental Health Administration
      • Master in Christian Counseling
    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
    4. 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
    5. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Counseling, M.A.
      • Counseling, M.A. Online
    Bachelor's
      • Psychology, B.S. - Emphasis in Clinical Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    6. 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
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Online Programs Available
    7. 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
    8. Abilene Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Administration
      • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy
      • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
      • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Child & Adolescent Therapy
      • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
      • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Treatment of Trauma
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health
      • Master of Business Administration - Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Addictions Couseling
      • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
      • B.S. Healthcare Administration
    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
    Certificate
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Pastoral Care and Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    10. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSEd - Mental Health Counseling
      • MBA Healthcare Administration

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Psychology - Clinical/Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

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?

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?

Colorado Christian University

  • Counseling, M.A.
  • Counseling, M.A. Online
  • Psychology, B.S. - Emphasis in Clinical Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

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?

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?

Abilene Christian University

  • MBA - Healthcare Administration
  • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education completed?