Substance abuse counselors work with a wide array of individuals who suffer from addiction. The main goal of a counselor is to help create a support system for people with drug and alcohol addiction specifically. This includes helping their clients and patients to modify behaviors that inhibit recovery and encourage relapse.

Drug rehabilitation programs, social agencies, correctional facilities and programs or mental health organizations are all common work environments for substance abuse counselors. These counselors often work closely with law enforcement, other social workers and health care professionals in order to ensure the goals of a client or patient are met. Both group meetings and individual sessions are a common way for a substance abuse counselor to practice. Counselors may be faced with assisting their patients in crisis management and coping strategies and to help them make changes and adjustments to their lives.

The position of substance abuse counselor is part social worker, part teacher and part mental health professional. A counselor must act as an advocate for their client in both crisis and legal situations. They must also work with the patient’s family and community. Education can be a key resource for a substance abuse counselor. Another responsibility is providing information to not only the patient, but also those around them about:

  • addiction issues
  • available community services and resources
  • how to deal with relapses
  • how to support an addicted individual

Keeping up with patients and clients and monitoring their progress is at the heart of what a substance abuse counselor does. This may include fostering constant communication to ensure safety, administering drug tests and making sure that the rehabilitation and recovery goals are met.

Career Growth

Prospects for careers in substance abuse counseling are good according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects that this field will grow 31 percent from 2012 to 2022. This is partially due to the growing trend of drug offenders being sentenced with treatment and counseling services instead of jail time. The increased availability of services for mental health issues due to the federally legislated insurance coverage is also a factor in this field’s growth.

Because the requirements for substance abuse counselors can vary from state to state, the employment outlook and requirements for advancement and growth can also differ greatly. The Association for Addiction Professionals offers different levels of certification.

Salary Potential

The BLS also projects that substance abuse counselors earn around $38,520 a year. Most counselors work full time during business hours. In some cases, substance abuse counselors will be “on call” and in constant communication with their clients or patients.

Education Required

Each state has different education, certification and licensure regulations for substance abuse counselors. Though some states only require a high school diploma and a low level of certification for employment, most states require full licensure. Licensure usually includes specific educational standards, experience in the field and a licensing exam.

A Bachelor of Arts in Social Work is a common degree for substance abuse counselors to have. Because social work hinges on the commitment to helping people and communities prevent and solve problems, a social work undergraduate program focuses on fundamental knowledge, values and competency skills that directly relate to that goal. Subjects that are covered in a social work program include:

  • social welfare policy and services
  • human behavior
  • social and economic justice
  • ethics
  • social context of environments

A goal of a social work program is to equip graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to employ an evidence-based approach that will guide their professional practices.