Substance abuse counselors and social workers help people who have problems with drugs and alcohol. They provide counseling to addicts and former addicts. Sometimes they're involved with crisis intervention situations. They also help the family members and friends of addicts whose lives are affected by the addiction. Counselors do not provide psychological therapy, but work under the supervision of physicians, psychologists and social workers.

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Substance Abuse Counselor Schools

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 a master's degree. The following five colleges and universities offer bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology, which can prepare a student well for the field of substance abuse counseling and social work:

  • Brescia University: This online college offers a bachelor's of social work degree that prepares students to work with people of diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.
  • Capella University: This university offers an online master's degree in addiction studies. The targeted program provides coursework specialized to the study of addiction, as well as a residency program with a social worker in the field.
  • Southern New Hampshire University: This online Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a concentration in addiction prepares graduates to assist patients with a wide variety of addiction types, from drugs to gambling.
  • The University of Massachusetts: The Boston campus of UMass offers a master's degree in mental health counseling which is delivered primarily online. Field experience with a local agency is a requirement of the program and gives students vital experience in the field.
  • The University of South Dakota: This state school offers an online Bachelor of Science in addiction studies which combines science-based addiction education with real-world experience.

Substance Abuse Counselor Education Requirements

While on-the-job training is often provided, some employers prefer candidates that have a bachelor's degree or higher in psychology, sociology or a related subject, along with two years of counseling in a related field or equivalent life experience. Some substance abuse counselors have a master's degree in mental health counseling. No matter the degree level or type, those studying to work with individuals struggling with substance abuse will study several aspects of social science. Substance abuse counselor education requirements typically include subjects in:

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

In addition to the curriculum, substance abuse counselor schools often provide opportunities for internships or practicums with real counselors and social workers.

Substance Abuse Counselor Training

Substance abuse counselor training, which includes training in drugs and alcohol, as well as crisis intervention, can take two to four years, depending on the degree level. After completing your degree, you will need licensing and/or certification. Note that the criteria varies by state. Licensing may be required when certification is not required or vice versa. However, licensing is almost always required for clinical social workers. Usually, at least 3,000 hours or two years of supervised clinical experience is needed to to seek licensure as a clinical social worker.

The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a general practice credential of National Certified Counselor, as well as a speciality certification in addiction counseling. The national certification is distinct from state licensing.

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, health care, gerontology, education, military and more.

Substance Abuse Counselor Resources


  1. Brescia University, http://online.brescia.edu/online-degrees/bachelor-of-social-work-bsw/
  2. Capella University, https://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/masters-addiction-studies/
  3. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
  4. NASW Professional Social Work Credentials and Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials, National Association of Social Workers. http://www.naswdc.org/credentials/list.asp
  5. 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
  6. Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-psychology/addictions
  7. University of Massachusetts, https://www.umb.edu/academics/caps/degree/mentalhealth
  8. University of South Dakota, http://www.usd.edu/usd-online/online-programs/bachelor-of-science-in-addiction-studies

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselors

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselors jobs , as of 2016

Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 2,960 $41,050
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson 1,730 $45,980
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale 1,640 $41,900
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 1,590 $37,920
Pittsburgh 1,320 $36,300
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 1,230 $45,420
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 1,100 $57,490
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn 970 $35,790
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford 960 $48,170
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood 930 $42,430

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Substance Abuse Counselors

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to substance abuse counselors

Career Stories (Job Profiles) for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselors

To find out more about building a career as Substance Abuse Counselors, we spoke with professionals in the field across a variety of specialties. Learn about their experiences on the job, the steps they took to complete their education, and what it takes to excel in this industry. Click the link to see a story.

All Types

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

Most Popular Industries for
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselors

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 20,100 25% $36,760
Nursing And Residential Care 17,920 22% $31,390
Social Service 14,160 17% $35,060
Hospital 10,400 13% $43,030
Government 9,800 12% $41,270
Education 4,550 5% $55,170
Non-profit 890 1% $34,060
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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselors.

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

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