You know that people with drug and alcohol dependencies need your help, so you are determined to make addiction counseling your life’s mission. What degrees can help you achieve that goal?
Colleges offer substance abuse studies at the associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral levels. Earning a bachelor’s degree and then advancing to a master’s degree is a reliable educational path that can prepare you for a variety of career options. Earning these degrees online gives you the flexibility to complete your addiction studies according to your schedule.
Drug and Alcohol Counseling Degree Programs
Depending on your interests and where you are in your educational career, you may want to read up on one of the following degree tracks.
- Applied Behavioral Science
- Human Services
- Psychology – Addictions & Recovery
- Psychology – Clinical & Counseling Psychology
- Addiction Studies
- Counseling – Addictions & Recovery
- Psychology – Addictions
- Master’s in Social Work
Some of these degrees will prepare you for licensure, while others will not.
Bachelor’s of Applied Behavioral Science
In the study of applied behavioral science, you’ll explore why people behave in the ways that they do. Your studies will touch on several disciplines, including sociology, economics, communications, and psychology. You may take courses like Introduction to Behavioral Science, Working with Groups, and Ethical Foundations.
Applied behavioral science is a research-heavy program. You’ll learn to collect and analyze data and then find practical applications for your conclusions. This program could prepare you to work in the fields of social services, drug rehabilitation or teen outreach.
Bachelor’s in Human Services
If you plan to work in community or non-profit agencies, you may want to start your drug counseling education with a bachelor’s degree in human services. Your coursework could include classes like Program Budgeting, Public Policy, Children and Family Services, and Foundations of Case Management.
You’ll study topics like psychology, sociology, ethics, human development, and conflict resolution. Some schools offer degree concentrations like Drug and Alcohol Addictions, Youth Services, and Criminal Justice. Your degree could prepare you to be a case manager, a probation officer, a social worker, or a counseling assistant.
Bachelor’s in Psychology – Addictions & Recovery
At the undergraduate level, you can gain valuable skills that will help you get started in the field of drug counseling. The classes that you take may include Pharmacology for Alcohol Dependency, Substance Abuse Treatment, and Addiction Psychology.
In addition to these addiction-focused classes, you’ll also learn about many branches of psychology, including developmental, abnormal, cognitive, and clinical.
At some schools, this online bachelor’s program can prepare you to take a few levels of the National Certified Addiction Counselor exam. Potential jobs include health educator, rehabilitation counselor, non-licensed addiction counselor, social worker, and community health worker.
Bachelor’s in Psychology – Clinical & Counseling Psychology
For a strong foundation in listening to others and helping them work through their problems, consider focusing your studies on clinical counseling skills. The knowledge that you gain will be transferrable to other areas of counseling in addition to drug and alcohol treatment.
Your coursework may include Counseling Theories, Thinking Psychologically, Counseling in Diverse Settings, Leading Counseling Groups, and Case Management. After graduation, you could work in a residential facility or a human services agency.
Keep in mind that this undergraduate degree won’t qualify you for licensure, but it can serve as a good foundation for graduate work in clinical counseling.
Master’s in Addiction Studies
Addiction treatment requires a unique set of counseling and therapeutic skills, and you’ll acquire them in an addiction studies program. Your coursework may include Addiction Treatment Theories, Preventing Drug Relapses, and Ethics for Addiction Professionals.
Elective options can help you create a course of study that aligns with your career goals; the available electives may cover topics like gambling, youth services, and trauma care. You’ll probably need to complete an internship as part of your degree plan. Most programs are sufficient for licensure purposes, but you’ll need to confirm eligibility in your state.
Master’s in Counseling – Addictions & Recovery
A master’s degree may prepare you to work one-on-one with clients as a licensed counselor. In an addictions and recovery program, your courses may include Crisis Intervention, Psychopharmacology for Addiction Treatment, Diagnostic Assessments, and Counseling in Group Settings.
Some programs provide all the credit hours required for a licensure exam. Others give you enough credits for a certification program, but you’ll need to take a few additional classes to pursue licensure.
Once you are licensed, you can work as a drug and alcohol counselor in medical clinics, community agencies, residential facilities, correctional facilities, rehab centers, or private practices.
Master’s in Psychology – Addictions
Are you interested in learning more about the brain processes that are involved in addiction? You’ll be able to take the facts and theories that you learn in a graduate-level psychology program and apply them to real-life therapies and treatments for people in need.
You may take classes in co-occurring mental health disorders, medications for addiction treatment, neurobiology, and case management. This program track may not be sufficient for licensure requirements, but it may get you ready to enter a doctoral program so that you can become licensed as a clinical psychologist.
Master’s in Social Work
If you care about the wellbeing of others, then you might be a good fit for a career in social work. Students in social work programs study topics like human behavior, group counseling, leadership, community intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifespan development.
An internship will be necessary for gaining hands-on experience. At many schools, both clinical and leadership tracks are available. Programs are typically designed to prepare you to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), but your state’s titles and regulations may vary.
How to Become a Drug and Alcohol Counselor
There is a wide range of jobs available in the field of addiction counseling. Some entry-level positions may require only a high school diploma or an undergraduate degree. Advancing in the field will require more education, though. For licensed counselor positions, most states require you to hold a master’s degree.
You can expect the path to licensure to look something like this:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree, preferably in drug counseling or psychology.
- Earn a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling.
- Gain counseling experience in supervised settings.
- Take and pass the licensing exam used by your state.
- Receive your license and begin to practice independently.
Remember to renew your license on a regular basis as required by your state.
Coursework for a Drug and Alcohol Counseling Degree
To prepare for a job as a drug and alcohol counselor, students spend a good deal of time learning about addictions and treatment approaches. Degree problems often cover subjects like psychology, social work, research, human development, sociology, and statistics.
Each school is different, but your university may have you take classes like:
- Cognition and Brain Function: You’ll study the science behind recall, learning, and other brain functions, and you’ll be able to make connections to addiction’s effects on the brain.
- Counseling in Group Settings: People with substance abuse disorders often discuss their addictions in group settings, so this class will equip you with skills for facilitating those groups.
- Human Lifespan Development: You’ll learn about normal physical and psychological development in this course and discuss ways that mental health disorders, addiction, and other problems can disrupt typical development.
- Mental Health and Psychopathology: This class will provide a survey of common mental health disorders; the curriculum may include coverage of causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
- Theories of Addiction: This overview of substance abuse and other addictive behaviors will cover addiction prevention, causes, results, and treatments.
Many programs also include practicum or internship components in which students put their classroom knowledge into practice.
Drug and Alcohol Counselor Jobs
If you’re studying drug and alcohol counseling, it might be because you want to become a substance abuse counselor or a mental health counselor. Those are in-demand roles, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of jobs to increase 22% between 2018 and 2028.
Other job possibilities include:
- Social worker: You might manage cases, supervise other social workers, or provide one-on-one counseling.
- Human services assistant: You could serve clients in a community or non-profit program.
- Probation officer: Drug offenders may need to maintain contact with you as a condition of their criminal sentences.
- Rehabilitation counselor: In a rehab program or a residential facility, you could help people prepare to live on their own without relying on drugs.
- Community health worker: You might run community drug prevention or education programs.
Any of these careers can give you the reward of helping people turn their lives around.
Drug and Alcohol Counselor Salary
Although personal satisfaction is a great reason to choose a particular career path, you also need to earn a livable wage.
Here’s what you can expect, on average, from these careers:
- Community health worker: $43,480
- Human services assistant: $33,750
- Probation officer: $53,020
- Rehabilitation counselor: $35,630
- Social worker: $49,470
- Substance abuse and mental health counselors: $44,630
Salaries vary across the country and often increase with experience.
Drug and Alcohol Counselor Certification
Drug and alcohol counselors are eligible for a variety of certifications and licensures. The options you choose to pursue may depend on your area of interest and the requirements for addiction counselors in your state.
Certification and licensure are not always the same. You may be eligible for some certifications after earning a bachelor’s degree, but licensure necessitates earning a master’s and meeting other state requirements.
Certifications and licensures to consider include:
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
- Master Addiction Counselor (MAC)
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I (NCAC I)
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II (NCAC II)
- Nicotine Dependence Specialist (NDS)
To earn these credentials, you will need to pass examinations from the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) or another industry organization.
Counseling Schools Accreditation
For a future counseling career, you might want to look for a substance abuse counseling program with programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This organization reviews colleges’ counseling programs to determine whether they meet the highest standards for counselor education.
Enrolling in a CACREP program is an excellent way to ensure you’re fully prepared for certification exams and employment.
In addition, the entire school must be accredited by a regional accrediting body. All reputable colleges have this type of accreditation. Without it, you can’t be confident that you’re attending a high-quality school.
Preparing to start either a bachelor’s or master’s program is a big choice and a big investment. As you begin applying to universities, make sure that you’re also applying for all of the financial aid that you can.
Here are some places to look for funding:
- Federal government
- Your state government
- Private organizations
- Your school
- Your employer
Scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid, though they will have some requirements and stipulations that you have to meet to qualify. Loans are deferred until after you graduate, meaning you should be able to enter the workforce before you have to start paying on them.
Professional Counseling Organizations
Membership in a professional association can be a perfect complement to your university studies.
Groups to consider include:
- American Counseling Association: ACA is committed to supporting counselors of all types, including addiction counselors.
- International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors: IAAOC addresses the unique needs of counselors who deal with addicted people and criminal offenders.
- NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals: NAADAC provides networking opportunities for counselors, educators, healthcare providers, and others in the field of substance abuse.
You can join these organizations as a student and maintain your memberships throughout your career.
To summarize, here a few questions people who are entering the field of substance abuse counseling ask.
How Much Do Drug and Alcohol Counselors Make?
On average, addiction counselors earn about $17.23 per hour. Licensed Professional Counselors and Licensed Clinical Social Workers are usually at the higher end of the scale, and caseworkers and social workers are at the lower end.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Addiction Counselor?
You should expect it to take over six years to become a licensed addiction counselor. Bachelor’s degrees usually take four years, and master’s programs typically take two years. Accelerated programs may speed up those processes.
Before licensure, you must log several thousand hours of professional experience; requirements vary by state.
Are Continuing Education Credits a Requirement of the Field?
You will need to earn continuing education credits to maintain your licenses or certifications. The specifics will depend on the requirements of your state or your certification agency.
Ready to Get Started?
You’re about to embark on a very rewarding career path. Here are your next steps:
- Decide on a concentration.
- Narrow down your choice of schools by degree specialization.
- Apply to 5-10 universities.
- Seek financial aid.
When you get your acceptance letters, be sure to consider any scholarships they offer compared to the total cost of the program.