How To Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

by Jordan Fabel | Last Updated: November 15, 2021

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.

How To Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!