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. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Addictions Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Grief Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services/Student Affairs
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - International
    Master's
      • M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Liberty University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage and Family
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Traumatology
    Master's
      • MA: Professional Counseling
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Community Chaplaincy
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Theology
      • MS: Criminal Justice: Forensic Psychology
      • MA: Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Addiction 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
      • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
  • Online Programs Available
    4. 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
      • Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy in General Family Therapy
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Nursing
      • MS in Educational Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
      • Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Counseling, M.A.
      • Counseling, M.A. Online
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Applied Psychology: Clinical Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Florida Tech

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Clinical Psychology
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Walden University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Health Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Teaching Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Industrial & Organizational Psychology
      • PhD in Forensic Psychology - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Forensic Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - General Program
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Military Families & Culture
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Trauma & Crisis Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. The Chicago School

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. Applied Behavior Analysis
      • Ph.D. Applied Behavior Analysis, Credential Track
    Master's
      • M.A. Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      • M.A. Forensic Psychology
      • M.S. Applied Behavior Analysis
    Certificate
      • Certificate in Forensic Psychology - M.A. Non-Licensure Track to Licensure Bridge Program
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Psychology - Clinical/Counseling

Featured Schools

Regent University

  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Addictions Counseling
  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
  • M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Liberty University

  • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
  • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage and Family
  • MA: Professional Counseling
  • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Community Chaplaincy

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Addiction Counseling
  • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma
  • BS in Health Care Administration
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Addications
  • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
  • Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy in General Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Psychology/Addictions
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Graduate Certificate in Addictions

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado Christian University

  • Counseling, M.A.
  • Counseling, M.A. Online
  • B.S. Applied Psychology: Clinical Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Florida Tech

  • BA in Applied Psychology/Clinical Psychology
  • BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Walden University

  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Health Psychology
  • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
  • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Forensic Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?