If you want to help others, you can become a substance abuse counselor. This is a career you can enter into without a college degree. Of course, getting a degree can be helpful, but it’s not necessary.
Before you decide to become a substance abuse counselor, you should understand this career. It’s also a good idea to understand what it will take to become a substance abuse counselor. Let’s look a bit closer at the job duties and this career option.
Job Duties of a Substance Abuse Counselor
As a substance abuse counselor, you will work with clients navigating issues, such as substance abuse, stress, family relationships, career challenges, and anxiety. You will have several job duties including:
- Working directly with clients through counseling sessions
- Listening to clients and helping them feel heard
- Gathering information to better serve your clients
- Taking notes throughout each client and adding the notes to their file
- Referring clients to specialists when medical intervention is necessary
- Helping clients set goals
- Following up with clients to help achieve a better well-being
- Providing clients with coping mechanisms and ways to handle stressful situations
- Communication with medical professionals, social workers, clients, and families.
You will have many different job duties if you decide to become a substance abuse counselor. Your main job will be to help those you counsel with their addiction and other issues.
How To Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in 5 Steps
Step #1 – Decide on the Type of Counselor you Want to Become
If you want to become a substance abuse counselor without getting a college degree, you can. You will have a few different options including:
- Drug and alcohol counselor– This type of counselor will work specifically with clients trying to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Some states will require a degree for this position, but many don’t. Check with your state before heading down this career path.
- Peer Counselor– a peer counselor will work with mental health patients, those struggling with substance abuse, and those dealing with life traumas. They use their own personal experience to help guide people through similar issues.
- Life Skills Counselor– Another type of counselor you can become without a degree is a life skills counselor. This type of substance abuse counselor will address professional and personal issues for clients.
Choosing the right career path will determine the training you need. If you want to become a substance abuse counselor without a degree, these are your three most likely options.
Step #2 – Get a College Degree (Optional)
A bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling or psychology is a great way to enter into this career. When you get a bachelor’s degree, you will set yourself apart. Many employers prefer or even require a bachelor’s degree.
You may even want to get a master’s degree in addiction counseling, social work, or counseling. This can help you become a more desirable candidate and earn a higher salary.
Step #3 – Become Certified
If you plan to become a substance abuse counselor without a college degree, you will still need training. Many colleges, professional institutions, and universities offer certifications for counselors. You can complete this type of training online.
Certifications may take a few days to a full year to complete. Your state may require specific certifications. It’s best to check the department of health website for your state for certification requirements and programs.
The right certification program can give you the training you need to become a substance abuse counselor. Make sure you choose one that fits your schedule and your goals. This is the fastest way to enter this career path.
Step #4 – Get Your License
In many states, you will need to become licensed. The license may be different if you plan to work in private practice compared to working for an employer. You will also need to renew your license every few years. Check your state’s requirements to find out the right license for your needs.
Step #5 – Gain Experience
As a substance abuse counselor, you can gain experience working in the field with an entry-level position. This type of position may be found throughout a social services agency, state government, or a non-profit organization. Any experience you can gain can help you advance your career faster.
Common Skills for Substance Abuse Counselors
If you plan to become a substance abuse counselor, developing the right skills will make a difference. Some of the common skills to develop include:
- Empathy– The best counselors have empathy for their clients. They can relate to the emotions their clients are feeling and connect better due to the empathy they show.
- Flexibility– When you become a counselor, you will need to be flexible. Sometimes, you have to start with whatever type of employment opportunity you can find. It might be outside your comfort zone, but it will help you build your career.
- Motivations– You will need to be self-motivated if you want to pursue this career.
- Compartmentalization– You cannot really take your work home with you as a substance abuse counselor. If you do, it can make you rather miserable. Being able to separate work and your personal life is an important skill.
- Communication skills– Of course, as a substance abuse counselor, you have to be able to communicate very well. This includes active listening, along with verbal and written communication skills.
- Time Management– You will want to give your clients your full attention, so you don’t want to be running late. Time management skills are important for this career.
- Attention to Detail– Paying close attention to what your client is saying, their behavior, and their mood is important. This allows you to help clients open up more and process what they are going through.
These are all very important skills for substance abuse counselors. Make sure you work on developing these skills so you can become successful in this career.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor
How much can a substance abuse counselor make?
The average salary for all counselors is about $30K per year. However, as a substance abuse counselor, you can often earn more than this. Some employers pay close to $100K with many paying above $50K per year.
Houston, New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, and Memphis all pay higher than the average salary. Your experience, location, and employer will determine your actual salary.
With zero to four years of experience, you will likely earn around $30K to $36K per year, as you gain more experience your salary will go up. With 12 to 16 years of experience, the average salary is closer to 39K per year. When you gain more than 20 years of experience, the average salary goes up to about $43K per year.
Getting a master’s degree or a doctoral degree can advance your salary much faster. These advanced degrees tend to help you earn better-paying jobs.
What type of benefits do substance abuse counselors get?
It’s common for a substance abuse counselor to receive health insurance, life insurance, vision insurance, and dental insurance. Paid time off is also rather common. Some counselors will also gain access to loan forgiveness or tuition reimbursement programs.
Is the career of substance abuse counselor growing?
Yes, this career is growing and is expected to continue to grow. It’s expected to grow by about 25% over the next ten years. Other areas of counseling are also growing, but they may not be growing at quite as high of a rate.
Do I need a degree to become a substance abuse counselor?
No, however, a degree can be very helpful. About 42% of substance abuse counselors have a bachelor’s degree with another 32% holding Master’s degrees. Only 15% have just a high school diploma. About 8% have an associate’s degree and even 3% have a doctoral degree.
While you can become a substance abuse counselor without a degree, getting one can help make you a more desirable candidate.
What type of skills can help you earn more and advance your career?
If you want to become a more desirable candidate as a substance abuse counselor, the right skills can help. Some of the best skills to have include:
- Addiction counseling experience
- Intake experience
- Computer literacy
- EMR systems knowledge
- Case management skills
- Group therapy experience
- Mental health counseling experience
- Individual/Group counseling experience
All of these skills can help you earn more money and advance your career.
Where do substance abuse counselors work?
It’s common to work for a state or local government agency. Many substance abuse counselors will also work for hospitals or substance abuse centers. Individual and family services, along with outpatient and residential mental health centers also hire substance abuse counselors.
If you want to help people with addiction and other issues, becoming a substance abuse counselor is a great option. This career doesn’t require a degree, but getting one can be very helpful. You know how to become a substance abuse counselor now. It’s up to you to take the first step.