“To see folks grab on to hope and begin to get their lives more orderly is phenomenal.”
~Stephen Gumbley, Director of the New England Addiction Technology Transfer Center
There are approximately 24 million people in the United States who currently suffer from substance abuse disorders manifesting as alcoholism or drug addiction, but only 11% of those are getting the help they need.
This means there are definitely career opportunities in the challenging and rewarding field of substance abuse counseling.
What Makes a Person Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?
As with other professions in the health care and mental health sectors, most people who become substance abuse counselors do so to help others.
Many substance abuse counselors have a personal history of alcoholism or drug addiction. Counselors who are recovering substance abusers are able to offer a degree of understanding and empathy that is unmatched in those who have never struggled with addiction. This can be invaluable in developing the client/counselor relationship.
Substance abuse counseling is first and foremost about establishing trust, and when counselors and clients can form a two-way relationship based upon mutual trust, counseling becomes that much more effective.
What’s the Job Outlook for Substance Abuse Counselors?
According to U.S. News & World Report, the number of substance abuse/behavioral disorder counseling positions will increase by 22% by 2024. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that it will mean 21,000 new openings within the next decade. Because of that rosy outlook, U.S. News & World Report ranks this as their “#1 Best Social Services Job”.
And the opportunities are going to be even greater in certain individual states. For example, Montana is expected to have a job growth rate for substance abuse counselors of 69.77% – the highest in the country. That would mean over 500 NEW substance abuse counselor jobs in Montana alone!
Look at how that would play out in the same area of the country if only the AVERAGE projections are used:
- Washington State – 450 new jobs
- Idaho – 134 new jobs
- Utah – 84 new jobs
- Wyoming – 18 new jobs
That’s almost 1200 projected new substance abuse counselor job openings in just the Pacific Northwest states.
On the other hand, you still have to do your homework –Oregon is expected to see an almost 22% decrease in the number of job openings in this particular career field.
What Is the Salary Outlook for Substance Abuse Counselors?
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics also released salary information and statistics for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors:
- Median Salary–$39,270
- Top-Tier Salary–$61,420-plus
- Low-End Salary—less than $25,310
- 75th Percentile–$50,010
- 25th Percentile–$31,400
As expected, salaries are higher for those with college degrees in appropriate fields and professional certification/licensure in the state.
So, using the above states as an example, how much might you typically expect to make in a specific location as a certified or licensed substance abuse counselor?
- Salt Lake City, Utah –up to $65,000
- Boise, Idaho – up to $52,000
- Helena, Montana – $40,976
- Seattle, Washington – $39,624
The best-paying niches are in educational settings at every level – elementary through high school, private academies, and universities.
Salaries for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are on the rise. Between 2006 and 2014, the median salaries rose steadily at a rate of approximately 19.73% per year.
What Education and Professional Certification and/or Licensure Do I Need to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in My State?
In recent years, the standard for substance abuse counseling has come to include the ability to help with behavioral and mental disorders as well, which increases the need for education such as Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, rather than just work experience.
There is no set-in-stone academic threshold that has to be met, however. Each individual state has its own requirements for certification and licensure, just as each job opening has its own candidate requirements.
However, again using the above states as examples, let’s look at what it takes to get licensed/or certified as a substance abuse counselor.
- Idaho –According to the Idaho Board of Alcohol/Drug Counselor Certification, Inc., the following is needed to be a Certified Alcohol/Drug Counselor (CADC):
- 6000 hours of supervised work experience with alcohol or drug abuse clients
- A college degree in a Behavioral Science field can substitute for some work experience hours– Sociology, Psychology, Social Work, Counseling, Social Science, or Alcohol/Drug Studies
- Associate’s Degree – will replace 1000 hours
- Bachelor’s Degree – will replace 2000 hours
- Master’s Degree – will replace 4000 hours
- An internship under a qualified supervisor documenting a minimum of 300 hours of supervision with at least 10 hours in each of the 12 Core Functions of Substance Abuse Counseling.
- An additional 270 hours of education relating to the performance domains and tasks of a substance abuse counselor; including assessment, counseling, alcohol and drug education, case management, and professional responsibility.
- Professional ethics training of at least 6 hours, including federal/state laws, client welfare, professional development, personal wellness, financial concerns, and cooperation with other professionals and institutions.
- Montana–This state has one level of licensure—Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC), issued by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and requiring:
- An Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited university in a Behavioral Science field with a clinical application
- Direct supervision under another LAC for at least 1000 hours in a clinical setting
- Addiction Counseling – 45 clock hours of education
- Addiction Assessment – 30 clock hours of education
- Alcohol and Drug Studies –30 clock hours of education
- Addiction Treatment, Planning, and Documentation –15 clock hours of education
- Pharmacology – 12 clock hours of education
- Multi-Cultural Competency – 12 clock hours of education
- Drug Counselor Ethics – 6 clock hours of education
- Other Related Classes – 120 clock hours of education
- All education must be approved by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry
- Must pass the Level I exam for the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)
- Utah–Licensing for a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor is overseen by the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which does NOT require a college degree:
- Individuals possessing a GED, a high school diploma, or a Bachelor’s Degree in any field other than Behavioral Science or Substance Abuse must provide documentation of 4000 hours of supervised experience
- Individuals with a Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science or Substance Abuse must provide documentation of 2000 hours of supervised experience
- The supervised experience must be at a ratio of one hour of direct, face-to-face supervision for every 40 hours of counseling services provided by the applicant
- Documentation of the passing score on the NAADAC Level I or Level II exam
- A thorough understanding of all applicable Utah rules and laws
- Washington State—Before a person can be a fully-certified Chemical Dependency Professional (CDP) in Washington State, an individual must first be a certified Chemical Dependency Trainee (CDPT). These certifications are issued by the Washington State Department of Health and require:
- The ability to pass a criminal background check
- A high school diploma or GED
- Proof of enrollment in a degree program for an approved course of study at an accredited school
- Proof of current (or pending) job as a Chemical Dependency Trainee
- Four hours of training in the prevention of AIDS transmission
- Once the person has met the following requirements, they can apply for their CDP certification:
- Associate’s Degree or higher in Human Services or a related field, or
- Completion of 60 college credit hours with at least 30 of those credits in courses specific to the alcohol/drug counseling field, which must include the following topics–
- Understanding Addiction
- Pharmacological Action of Alcohol and Other Drugs
- Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment Methods
- Understanding Addiction Placement, Continuing Care, and Discharge Criteria, Including ASAM Criteria
- Cultural Diversity, Including People with Disabilities and Its Implication for Treatment
- Chemical Dependency Clinical Evaluation (Screening and Referral to Include Comorbidity)
- HIV/AIDS Brief Intervention for the Chemically Dependent
- Chemical Dependency Treatment Planning
- Service Coordination
- Individual Counseling
- Group Counseling
- Chemical Dependency Counseling for Families, Couples, and Significant Others
- Client, Family, and Community Education
- Developmental Psychology
- Psychopathology/Abnormal Psychology
- Documentation, to include – screening, intake, assessment, treatment plan, clinical reports, clinical progress notes, discharge summaries, and other client-related data
- Chemical Dependency Confidentiality
- Professional and Ethical Responsibilities
- Relapse Prevention
- Adolescent Chemical Dependency Assessment and Treatment
- Chemical Dependency Case Management
- Chemical Dependency Rules and Regulations
- Applicant must successfully pass the NAADAC Level II exam or the International Certification Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC) Level II exam
- 2000 hours of supervised work experience, reduced to 1500 if the applicant possesses a Master’s Degree
- Wyoming –Licensure for a Certified Addiction Practitioner (CAP) is issued by the Wyoming Mental Health Professionals Licensing Board, which requires:
- A Bachelor’s Degree with a concentration in addictionology, chemical dependency, or substance abuse from an accredited school
- Pass the NAADAC Level II exam or the ICRC Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor (AODA) exam
It is important to note that CAPs are only allowed to provide clinical services with the administrative supervision of both their employer AND the clinical supervision of their designated Qualified Clinical Supervisor. Clinical practice is not permitted until a Supervision Agreement has been approved by the Licensing Board.
From just this small sample, you can see the vast differences between different states’ certification requirements and even the titles are given –CADC, LAC, CSAC, CDP, or CAP. What’s important to remember is to fully follow the specific requirements of your state’s governing body.
This also serves to demonstrate the level of training and experience possessed by the dedicated professionals at Northpoint Recovery, located in Boise, Idaho. Not only does Northpoint offer the premier drug and alcohol rehab in the Northwest, but it also has the best staff-to-patient ratio in the entire region, thereby ensuring you get the personal attention and support you need as you begin your sober journey.