Substance Abuse Counselor

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Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors serve many roles. During the course of counseling your patient, you will likely be helping them make healthier decisions both in terms of the actions they take and the substances they choose to put in their body. For instance, many probation programs for drug-related offenses require the substance abuse counselor to help their patient avoid alcohol consumption. Any patient suspected to be violating such terms must be coached out of said behaviors, and the suspicions are to be reported to the patient’s probation or parole officer.

As you can see, these varying roles give a substance abuse counselor quite a bit of responsibility, but the results can also be very rewarding. Helping someone turn their life around by ending their dependency on substance abuse is an occupational experience that is hard to compete with.

If you are interested in becoming a substance abuse counselor and serving in these capacities, read on to learn the process:

Meet the Minimum Education Requirements

Your first requirement is to get an education in the field of counseling. Enrolling in an accredited counseling degree program will begin with covering the basics of counseling, such as case management and multicultural counseling. Then, you will learn the specifics of substance abuse counseling, such as the pharmacology of addiction and effective treatment techniques.

The level of education needed will differ depending on the area in which you will serve, as well as the agency you intend to serve. Each state has differing education requirements for certifying counselors. For instance, Texas requires all of their substance abuse counselors to hold an associate’s degree or higher, whereas New York State requires only a high school diploma or GED.

Most states will have separate requirements for minimum education credentials and specific counseling program education, such as permitting a GED education but requiring 300 hours of chemical dependency curricula completion taught by an approved or accredited institution.

Apply for Supervised Training

Once you have achieved the minimum level of education, you are most likely going to need to obtain supervised substance abuse counseling field work. Nearly every state requires aspiring substance abuse counselors to perform a working practicum as an intern, trainee or otherwise assistive role in a substance abuse treatment setting. Review the minimum supervised hours requirements for your state. Most certification boards have minimum hour requirements that range between 100 hours and 300 hours or more.

Working as an assistant substance abuse counselor is an excellent opportunity to receive mentoring and training for on-the-job skills. You can familiarize yourself with the type of work you will be performing and learn methods for effective treatment and practice management.

Apply for Substance Abuse Counselor Certification

Once you have received enough education and supervised training hour credits, you can apply for state certification to become an actual substance abuse counselor. You will most likely be required to submit to a background check, drug screening, criminal history review and other such measures that correlate to “strength of moral character.”

Other requirements may include:

  • Completion of additional supervised training hours
  • Payment of application fee
  • Submitting ID requirements such as fingerprints and a license photo
  • Signing an ethical standards agreement

You will then need to satisfy the requirements for licensure or certification, which can include passing a state-facilitated exam. After being approved for certification or licensure, you can become a full-fledged substance abuse counselor.

Apply for a Substance Abuse Counselor Position

Once you have attained your needed license or certification, you are now eligible to apply for substance abuse counselor positions in your community or throughout the state you are credentialed to serve in.

Positions can vary from treatment centers to correctional institutions to probationary programs to private counseling practices and more. Read up on the reputation and job benefits of each position and find the one that works best for you. Good luck!

Substance Abuse Counselor Salary Information

Substance Abuse Counselor Salary by State

Location 10% 25% Median 75% 90%
United States $25,310 $31,400 $39,270 $50,010 $61,420
Alabama $25,600 $31,030 $38,260 $48,080 $63,690
Alaska $32,480 $40,780 $51,820 $60,280 $70,020
Arizona $25,450 $30,030 $39,510 $47,850 $60,120
Arkansas $22,400 $30,970 $36,360 $51,030 $80,350
California $21,500 $28,050 $36,260 $46,630 $59,140
Colorado $23,730 $30,460 $39,920 $53,400 $65,150
Connecticut $27,930 $34,380 $45,430 $57,840 $69,750
Delaware $30,590 $33,620 $38,160 $47,750 $62,680
District of Columbia $32,150 $36,290 $47,690 $60,770 $73,940
Florida $24,530 $30,600 $39,250 $52,860 $66,150
Georgia $26,090 $30,660 $38,670 $50,200 $62,990
Hawaii $30,710 $35,200 $42,200 $49,240 $61,490
Idaho $29,970 $36,960 $42,710 $47,380 $53,760
Illinois $25,070 $28,380 $34,050 $40,830 $53,070
Indiana $25,130 $28,400 $35,160 $45,480 $60,680
Iowa $25,580 $31,490 $38,530 $53,450 $69,900
Kansas $26,280 $30,810 $37,610 $46,310 $56,090
Kentucky $25,460 $29,290 $36,070 $44,650 $53,350
Louisiana $17,620 $23,190 $35,310 $46,030 $56,730
Maine $28,560 $33,470 $41,200 $50,320 $58,800
Maryland $28,340 $34,040 $42,200 $51,610 $62,030
Massachusetts $24,970 $30,530 $39,040 $54,190 $62,200
Michigan $26,790 $33,090 $41,820 $51,360 $62,770
Minnesota $33,370 $40,400 $45,210 $50,890 $59,910
Mississippi $22,630 $25,010 $27,380 $34,790 $50,450
Missouri $19,250 $26,480 $32,550 $38,870 $47,920
Montana $22,320 $33,180 $40,150 $46,820 $56,200
Nebraska $27,360 $32,650 $37,710 $47,210 $58,490
Nevada $31,460 $38,340 $45,030 $53,470 $60,580
New Hampshire $32,990 $36,020 $41,930 $51,870 $82,570
New Jersey $32,270 $39,480 $47,420 $58,140 $70,540
New Mexico $26,970 $31,930 $39,620 $47,170 $56,810
New York $28,170 $34,700 $44,550 $56,100 $66,270
North Carolina $31,840 $35,690 $42,410 $51,240 $62,230
North Dakota $39,580 $42,970 $48,430 $55,790 $61,760
Ohio $27,330 $32,610 $39,340 $48,140 $59,410
Oklahoma $18,030 $24,060 $36,720 $52,500 $72,720
Oregon $27,220 $32,670 $41,200 $55,510 $75,350
Pennsylvania $26,130 $32,000 $39,050 $48,940 $59,820
Rhode Island $26,680 $30,130 $34,760 $39,870 $53,420
South Carolina $25,320 $30,220 $35,960 $43,490 $52,290
South Dakota $26,880 $31,180 $35,480 $40,500 $46,380
Tennessee $23,450 $27,920 $35,390 $45,290 $55,040
Texas $24,530 $29,540 $36,340 $45,400 $55,910
Utah $16,380 $18,340 $33,740 $46,160 $56,620
Vermont $32,320 $36,690 $44,730 $56,350 $67,350
Virginia $29,220 $34,060 $41,260 $58,600 $73,640
Washington $29,300 $34,570 $42,130 $50,610 $60,050
West Virginia $22,090 $25,370 $28,780 $33,840 $40,760
Wisconsin $25,250 $32,220 $42,550 $55,230 $65,000
Wyoming $27,110 $38,960 $45,450 $56,950 $69,150
Puerto Rico $16,560 $18,160 $26,130 $33,430 $44,440

Table data taken from 2014 BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211011.htm)