Social workers help people to adjust to difficulties in their lives, providing them with the resources, services and opportunities that can be helpful to making a positive change in their life. There are many different areas of specialization in social work, including that of mental health and substance abuse. While these types of social workers have the same responsibilities of many other types, they aim to help people suffering from issues such as anxiety, depression and other sorts of struggles or even a dependency on alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

A mental health and substance abuse social worker helps point patients in a beneficial direction in treating or managing their illness, such as a 12-step program or specific type of support group. They may fill out paper work for them, refer them to organizations to get help for their mental illness or addition, help them gain admission into an addictions facility or more. Additionally, they provide a consistent source of support to an individual, which may be important to their overall success and recovery.

Responsibilities of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

The job expectations for mental health and substance abuse social workers can vary, and really depend on the population of clientele they work with and/or their education level. However, on the job they may be expected to:

  • Interview clients and help determine their mental, physical or emotional condition
  • Be familiar with a wide range of mental health conditions and related resources
  • Consult with other professionals about a plan of action
  • Aid clients into getting entry into a substance abuse program, when necessary
  • Make adjustments to treatment plans
  • Handle any crises that arise as a result of a client's particular needs
  • Help clients transition from a treatment center back into regular living

Job Characteristics for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

While the work environment for mental health and substance abuse social workers can differ, they should be comfortable working with all sorts of people, ranging from various types of professionals to a diverse clientele. On the job, they may need to:

  • Spend much of their time in an office or residential facility
  • Also spend some time traveling to meet clients when it is needed for the job
  • Work with other service providers and participate in meetings
  • Work on the evening or weekend, when necessary
  • Be prepared for days that can be both rewarding and draining
  • Be able to handle heavy caseloads

Skills that can be beneficial to mental health and substance abuse social workers include:

  • Patience
  • Organization and time management
  • Emotional maturity
  • Sensitivity
  • People skills

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Salary Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following information about mental health and substance abuse social workers nationwide:

  • Total Employed: 109,460, in 2014
  • Employment Growth: 23% growth, from 2012 to 2022
  • Average Salary: $45,820 in 2014

The need for care and treatment for those with mental health and substance abuse issues is expected to increase in upcoming years, particularly as drug abusers are accepted into treatment programs instead of being sent to jail, according to the BLS. Individuals in New Jersey, Connecticut, California, New Hampshire and Maine had the highest mean wages, all above $55,000, as of 2014.

Education, Certification and Licensing for Social Workers

A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum education needed to enter the field. Depending on the scope of the job and the expectations, social workers in mental health and substance abuse may need advanced education, like at the master's level, however. In a degree program, students gain knowledge about:

  • Human behavior
  • Social welfare
  • Working with diverse populations
  • Developing plans to help clients

Certification may be necessary in some states, but the requirements for this vary. Also, the National Association of Social Workers offers a variety of credentials to individuals who are licensed and have a bachelor's or master's degree. These are offered in addictions, case management, healthcare, gerontology, education, military and more.

Licensing may be required when certification is not required or vice versa. However, licensing is almost always required for clinical social workers. These are workers who have a master's degree and work with clients in a clinical setting. Usually, at least 3,000 hours or two years of supervised clinical experience is needed to to seek licensure as a clinical social worker.

Major Employers of Social Workers

  • State and local government agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Local governments
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Family service agencies

Resources for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

  • National Association of Social Workers
  • Association of Social Work Boards
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work
  • The New Social Worker Careers Magazine


  1. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
  2. NASW Professional Social Work Credentials and Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials, National Association of Social Workers. http://www.naswdc.org/credentials/list.asp
  3. Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-6

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information jobs , as of 2016

Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 4,370 N/A
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 2,010 $62,820
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale 1,790 $35,900
Pittsburgh 1,650 $36,920
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 1,400 $54,810
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn 1,370 $48,540
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson 1,210 $51,870
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood 1,050 $43,610
Cleveland-Elyria 1,030 $41,050
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario 1,010 $58,750

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to mental health and substance abuse social workers

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, BLS.gov

Most Popular Industries for
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Medical Office 33,380 25% $37,650
Social Service 26,750 20% $35,340
Government 22,880 17% $36,370
Nursing And Residential Care 22,270 17% $33,880
Hospital 18,590 14% $45,050
Non-profit 3,530 2% $38,620
Office Services And Staffing 1,330 1% $36,380
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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Career Information.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

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