Substance Abuse Counselor Degree

State education requirements for substance abuse counselors range from a high school diploma to a Master’s degree. For some group counseling jobs, employers value personal experience over education. Past battles with addiction help counselors relate to clients and foster trust. However, pursuing a substance abuse counselor degree will lead to more opportunity, expanded responsibilities, and much higher pay.

Substance Abuse Counselor Education Considerations

Take the following details into consideration if you plan on pursuing addiction counseling as a career path.

High School Considerations

Most high schools will not offer courses directly related to substance abuse counseling, but you can still learn important skills to start your career. Here are things you can learn in high school or at home:

  • Computer and keyboarding skills – Counselors do a lot of paperwork. Learn office programs like spreadsheets and word documents, and practice fast, accurate data entry.
  • Written and oral communications – writing and speaking classes will come in handy. Knowing how to communicate effectively is a critical skill.
  • Second language – many states have large Hispanic populations. Learning to speak Spanish may be helpful.
  • Peer counseling – helping other students in one-on-on meetings is valuable experience.

Working at a counseling facility with only a high school diploma and on-the-job training will not result in a high salary and is unlikely to offer opportunities for career advancement. To open a private practice or move up the ladder at a job, counselors need a Master’s degree, up to 3,000 hours of clinical experience, and a state license.

Associate’s Degree Considerations

substance abuse counselor degreeThe first step in any degree program begins with the basics. In the first two years, college students take math, English, computing, and basic science courses. Focus electives on courses to support necessary skills.

Bachelor’s Degree Considerations

There are a few Bachelor’s degree programs that offer prerequisites specifically designed to support a Master’s in substance abuse counseling, but if there are none at the undergraduate school they choose to attend, students can follow a course of study related to the field. Some good choices include social work, psychology, pharmacology, and rehabilitation services.

Picking a College for Your Master’s Degree

It’s common practice for college students to attend an inexpensive state college (formerly called community colleges) before moving on to a University to continue their educations.

Although it’s not mandatory to attend college in the state where you intend to practice, it can make obtaining a license easier. Colleges that offer a Master’s degree in substance abuse counseling often base their curriculum on state licensing requirements. Look for a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP), which is accepted in nearly every state.

Earning a Master’s Degree for Substance Abuse Counselors

There are several degrees related to substance abuse counseling. Depending on the school, students can pursue a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in Substance Abuse, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling,  Clinical Counseling with Substance Abuse Focus, or other similar degrees. They also have the option to earn a general Master’s degree in a related field such as social work or psychology.

It takes most students a year and a half to two years to complete a Master’s degree program. Typical courses include:

  • Family counseling
  • Counseling methods and theories
  • Pharmacology
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Psychosocial impact of substance abuse
  • Multicultural counseling
  • Chemical dependency evaluation and diagnosis
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Relapse prevention
  • Schizophrenia dual diagnosis
  • Mental health counseling
  • Treatment planning

Clinical rotations are often included as part of the program. Working in a counseling facility gives students practical, hands-on experience with patients, paperwork, and the working environment. States have different requirements for the number of clinical hours necessary for licensure, but most fall in the 2,000 to 3,000 hours range.

Why Earn a Substance Abuse Counselor Degree?

In all, it takes 4-6 years of study to earn a substance abuse counselor degree. A Master’s is the highest degree required. There is no Ph.D. in the field, although there are many related fields, like psychology.

It may sound like a lot of work, but counselors in private practice can earn a great deal of money over the course of a lifetime. It’s a job that cannot be outsourced, and there will always be a need. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) predicts that job growth in this area over the next decade will be  excellent. The salary range for the position is $27,000 for a candidate just starting out with little education and experience to upwards of $60,000 for someone further along in their career. Private practitioners can earn well above top pay.

Without a degree, you can work in the field, but you cannot perform individual counseling or hold a supervisory role. There won’t be opportunity for upward mobility. On the other hand, if you can earn a degree while working as a substance abuse counselor, you’ll have quite an edge over other candidates in a competitive market. Working your way through your substance abuse counseling degree in a counseling job is a great way to get ahead and jumpstart a lucrative career.

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