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Substance Abuse Counselor Job Description, Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school

Salary: Median—$32,960 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Substance abuse counselors help people who have problems related to alcohol and other drugs. They counsel addicts as well as those who are afraid they might become addicts. They also help former addicts. Sometimes they counsel the families, friends, and loved ones of addicts, whose lives are inevitably affected by the problem.

Addiction counselors, as they are sometimes called, usually help with practical problems. For example, a counselor might help a former addict find a job. Counselors do not prescribe medicine or provide medical or psychological therapy. Substance abuse counselors are often supervised by doctors, psychologists, or social workers.

Some of these counselors work in halfway houses, where addicts live while they are under treatment. Counselors may also work in outpatient clinics where people come in on a regular basis for treatment. Other counselors work in hospitals, treatment centers, or human service agencies. Sometimes these counselors are former substance abusers themselves who have learned from their mistakes and want to help others. Substance abuse counselors hold counseling sessions for one person or for a group of people. At these sessions counselors try to help addicts talk about, understand, and cope with their problems.

Education and Training Requirements

A minimum of a high school diploma is usually required for this field of work. Counselors generally are trained on the job. Training programs vary in length from six weeks to two years. Some colleges also offer training programs for counselors. These programs usually last two years and include courses on the effects of alcohol and other drugs. Students may also learn crisis intervention—a way of handling emergency situations. Emergencies may involve emotional or medical problems. Graduates of these programs usually receive an associate's degree. Certification is also available from the National Board for Certified Counselors. For some positions, a bachelor's degree or higher in sociology, psychology, or a related field may be required. An increasing number of substance abuse counselors are getting their master's degrees in mental health counseling.

Substance abuse counselors help people who have alcohol or drug dependencies talk about, understand, and cope with their problems. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Getting the Job

You can apply for a job at a halfway house, treatment center, hospital, or clinic that offers substance abuse counseling. Your school placement office may be able to give you job information. Also check state and private employment agencies. Newspaper want ads and job banks on the Internet sometimes list jobs for substance abuse counselors.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Substance abuse counselors who have a high school diploma or an associate's degree can advance to the position of director of a halfway house. However, most other advanced jobs in the field of substance abuse, such as rehabilitation counselors or social workers, require at least a bachelor's degree. For other jobs, such as psychologist, the minimum education requirement is a master's degree. The employment outlook is expected to grow faster than the average for counselors through the year 2014 because addicts are increasingly being sent for therapy and rehabilitation rather than to jail.

Working Conditions

Most substance abuse counselors work a forty-hour week. Some live in halfway houses. The work can be tense and sometimes frustrating. Counselors work closely with other people and should enjoy helping others.

Where to Go for More Information

National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors
901 N. Washington St., Ste. 600
Alexandria, VA 22314
(800) 548-0497

Earnings and Benefits

The median annual earnings of substance abuse counselors in 2004 was $32,960. Salaries vary depending on education, experience, and level of responsibility. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,060, while the highest 10 percent, who held bachelor's and master's degrees, earned more than $49,600. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

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