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.
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:
- 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.
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 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.