What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor?

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substance abuse counselor degree

A substance abuse problem takes over a person’s life. It affects their health, their work and ultimately their relationships.If they don’t get help, it could spiral out of control and cost the person’s freedom or even their life.

Substance abuse counselors are the health care and social service professionals who work in:

  • outpatient medical centers
  • residential care facilities
  • government agencies
  • hospitals and schools

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They help patients recover from alcoholism and drug addictions. If you have the compassion, patience and listening skills to help addicts work toward recovery, this fulfilling career can be yours. The right education can help you get started.

Degree Level Options for Substance Abuse Counseling

In years past, substance abuse counselors began their careers with merely high school diplomas, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Today, substance abuse counseling is more closely linked with the field of behavioral health than it once was. Aspiring substance abuse counselors need to know more about counseling to enter the field, which is why many are now earning bachelor’s or even master’s degrees in preparation for the career path.

In the study of substance abuse disorders, the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network now recognizes hundreds of schools from the community college to the university level that offer:

  • certificates
  • associate’s degrees
  • bachelor’s degrees
  • master’s degrees
  • doctorates

Often, students in these programs take coursework in addiction studies, case management and counseling, which happen to be among the 50 best online degree programs.

Beyond the Degree

Many states require substance abuse counselors to hold a license or certification, particularly if they intend to work in private practice. Often, licensure requirements include:

  • a college degree
  • a passing score on an exam
  • 2,000 to 4,000 hours of clinical experience

Substance abuse counselors earn a median salary of $38,520 per year, according to the BLS. However, those who work in school settings at any level – from elementary to college – and those who work in certain geographical metropolitan areas stand to earn substantially more money, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The job outlook for this career is highly positive. The BLS expects career opportunities in substance abuse counseling to grow by 31 percent over just a decade. This is much faster than the average growth rate of just 11 percent across all occupations during that time. The predicted increase in opportunities is due in part to factors like:

  • more health insurance companies covering addiction counseling
  • more patients obtaining health insurance coverage
  • a move by many states to treat drug offenders instead of incarcerating them

Having specialized training can further improve job marketability for substance abuse counselors. Attributes like the bright job outlook and the opportunity to make a difference in clients’ lives led U.S. News & World Report to rank substance abuse counselor 18th on its list of the Best Health Care Jobs and 38th on its 100 Best Jobs list.

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