Addiction and Substance Counseling Resource

What You Need to Know to Make a Difference

Substance use and addiction has been, and will continue to be a growing issue across the globe. Whether it be alcohol, over the counter medications, or illegal substance. We are here to guide professionals to help those looking for help to simply beat addiction. By understanding licensure requirements for addiction counseling, one could change a single life, or hundreds.

Aimed to help gather all the tools to decide whether following a career as a substance abuse counselor is the right decision. Most states have their own requirement, which can be found through the NBCC. With this overview PublicHealthOnline.org encourages individuals to get the right education, take the exams and work with their communities, and local groups to curb substance abuse issues and addiction issues.

We will look at licensing and certificate requirements, the degrees required, exams, overall experience, and more.

What is The Role of a Substance Abuse Counselor?

As a substance abuse counselor, the main goal is to help a patient overcome dependencies and become self-sufficient. The road to becoming self-sufficient is what makes the job both challenging and rewarding. It will depend on the patient, their addiction, their lifestyle, and your own counseling style.

Substance abuse counselors also provide a solid support system by developing a relationship with patients based on trust and communication. In many cases, counselors work with the family to develop methods to assist clients, especially if they are chemically dependent. It is often a long-term commitment, and sometimes calls for immediate medical attention.

Listening to your patient speak about their problems and getting to the route of the addiction is integral part of the process. Finding ways to replace the addictive behavior with something healthy and positive is a job for both the patient and counselor.

It’s a multi-faceted job that requires a range of skills and incredibly committed, hard-working individuals. Even within counseling, there are several sub-divisions one could go into. Counselors specialize in specific age groups – from young children and teens, to adults, the elderly, and other groups such as veterans, athletes and more.

What Degrees do Substance Abuse Counselors Need?

Substance abuse counselors need master’s degrees to fully practice, although some states will allow bachelor’s graduates to administer basic counseling under the guidance of an experienced observer.

Counselors work directly with patients who are in extremely vulnerable positions, so the training, skills, and education required is quite demanding. If you’re thinking about going into this field, you’ll need to be prepared to dedicate your time to continuously learning and growing as the industry and research evolves.

    Bachelor’s Degree

    Before getting your masters, you need to take the first steps to your substance abuse counseling career by getting your bachelor’s degree. Earning a bachelor’s degree in a field like counseling, psychology, or social work is the best way to set up your admission into the master’s in counseling program. While studying, students are encouraged to volunteer at local clinics or hospitals to gain practical experience.

    Master’s Degree

    In some states, one only needs a bachelor’s degree to get an entry level position as a substance abuse counselor. While this is a good way to gain experience and perhaps take a gap year between studies, it’s advisable to continue towards a master’s level education. The role of a substance abuse counselor is critical to the life and development of your clients, so getting the best education possible will help you to do your job better and give yourself peace of mind that you’re providing your patients with the best possible care. Other states will only accept substance abuse counselors who have a CACREP accredited master’s degree.

The coursework covered includes looking at the stages, processes, and effects of substance use disorders and the counselor’s role in intervention and aftercare. Students will also look into theories of multi-cultural counseling and ways to work with diverse populations. Part of the theory includes counseling principles, existential psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and rational emotive behavioral therapy. In the practical component, students will look at screening, assessing, and then treating patients with substance abuse disorders.

What is CACREP Accreditation?

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is an organization that oversees the substance abuse degree programs provided by institutions across the country. If the program meets CACREP’s expected quality and high-standards, then it gets CACREP accreditation. Many employees and states specifically look for CACREP accreditation, so it’s worth investing in their seal of approval.

The National Counselor Examination (NCE)

The National Counselor Examination costs about $275 to take and consists of 200 multiple choice questions. Most states require this examination before allowing you to practice. Some states might require more, but the NCE is a good base for fundamental knowledge and establishing a uniformity within standards and practices. More information and registration for the NCE can be accessed via their website.

The states most in need of substance abuse practitioners

West Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Ohio are some of the hardest hit states when it comes to drug related deaths and hospitalizations. They also lack qualified substance abuse counselors. Over the next few years, these states have allocated greater budgets to employee more counselors and create drug awareness campaigns.

What Licenses/Certificates do Substance Abuse Counselors Need?

From a personal point of view, in this kind of field, you need as much experience as possible and you’ll probably always need more experience. You will be working with different personalities and different life experiences. No two counseling sessions will be the same. For licensure and job eligibility, professionals typically need about 2000 – 3000 (state dependent) practical hours before they can move on to become a certified counselor.

How Much Experience do You Need?

Different states have different licensure and certification requirements, so you will need to do additional research to find information specific to the state you’ll be working in. To maintain some form of continuity in knowledge and the fundamentals, the counseling licensure board has outlined the below requirements:

  • A master’s degree in counseling or a related field from an accredited school.
  • Completing your practical or internship hours.
  • A passing score on the National Counselor Examination (NCE).
  • Completing the state-mandated postgraduate practical hours – usually around 2000 to 3000 hours.

Once you meet these basic requirements, you should visit your state licensure website to confirm what else you need to obtain your practicing license.

Additional Certifications

The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) has additional certifications depending on your chosen specialization. There are three levels of credentials that cover varying degrees of knowledge and training. Once you’ve received your master’s and licensure, continuing your education through obtaining additional certifications will help you keep up with the research and counseling methods in the industry. It will also hold your work to a higher standard.

Personal Skills

As a substance abuse counselor, although your education and training will help you, possessing certain personal qualities will make your job easier and more rewarding. Of course, you don’t have to possesses all of these. Learning and growing into the procession is part of the process for both you and your patients

  • Be accepting and non-judgmental
  • Empathy
  • Ability to communicate with diverse populations and personalities
  • Strong rapport building skills
  • Be flexible and able to adapt to your patient’s needs
  • Strong critical thinking
  • Good problem-solving skills
  • Great people skills
  • Be self-aware

Where do Substance Abuse Counselors Work?

Substance abuse counselors can work in a variety of places, including:

  • Schools
  • Halfway houses
  • Treatment centers
  • Youth houses
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Community centers
Job Growth and Salary Projections

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual salary for a substance abuse counselor (from the 10th to the 90th percentile) is $17,050 to $127, 490. Nevada and Utah currently have the highest paying substance abuse counseling jobs.

Jobs in the substance abuse counseling sector will continue to grow. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Growth Report, substance abuse counseling jobs will see a 7.7% – 44% job growth percentage by the year 2026.

The Difference A Substance Abuse Counselor Will Make

As a counseling, your first interaction with your patients will usually be when they hit rock bottom. They’ll likely be at the lowest point in their lives and they might be difficult to work with. They might have lost family, jobs, and even their houses. Being the support system for someone in this position can be extremely difficult, but you’ll be showing them a road paved with love and acceptance. You’ll be helping someone pick themselves up from a point they thought they’d never return from.

It might take months, or even years, of consistent, supportive treatment and patient centered plans before you see a difference, but many addiction counselors report an incredibly recovery. Getting to the heart of the addiction source requires introspection and self-awareness and along this journey people grow stronger, more confident, and develop a spark of hope. They can start working to get their jobs back, they’re able to face the people they’ve hurt and apologize and they can start rebuilding their life. More than anything, your patients will grow and learn to accept and manage their challenges.

Here are State Licensing requirements for Addication Studies