Posted in Career Insights

how do i become a substance abuse counselorSubstance abuse counselors help people in a drug or alcohol treatment program overcome their addiction.

These patients may be at all stages of recovery and in treatment voluntarily or involuntarily through a court order. Substance abuse counselors are also called drug and alcohol counselors, therapists, or mental health professionals.

A substance abuse counselor’s duties can include:

  • Evaluating clients;
  • Meeting with clients regularly;
  • Maintaining client records;
  • Teaching clients to cope with their addiction; or
  • Promoting overall mental health.

Substance abuse counselors may work in places such as a substance abuse clinic, hospital, halfway-house, or private practice. Your job may require you to work flexible hours such as weekends and nights when serving your clients.

In general, some of the things needed to become a substance abuse counselor are getting an education, obtaining a state license or certification, and passing a background check.

If you are wondering, “how do I become a substance abuse counselor?” then you can work toward getting a career started by taking our introductory Drug And Alcohol Treatment Specialist course.

Why Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

When considering career options that focus on helping individuals, becoming a substance abuse counselor is usually at the top of everyone’s list, and for good reason.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for substance abuse counselors is expected to grow by 22%, which is more than four times faster than the average career. This equates to an additional 77,500 job openings over the next decade on top of 351,000 existing positions.

One of the reasons for this growth is the demand for treatment. Data from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics shows that 50% of all people 12 and older have used illicit drugs at least once and that more than 700,000 people in the US have died from a drug overdose since 2000. In addition, the number of overdose deaths continues to increase at an annual rate of 4%.

Unfortunately, many of these deaths are preventable if there is treatment in place. For this reason, many treatment centers are popping up all over the nation in an attempt to provide resources for those struggling with addiction.


While it may be possible to get a job as a substance abuse counselor with a high school diploma, many jobs require that you have an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.

This can also depend on the state, so check your state’s education requirements carefully. For example, the state of Colorado requires that licensed addiction counselors have a minimum of a Master’s degree in behavioral health. However, certified addiction counselors in Florida need only a high school diploma and some on-the-job experience.

When researching how to become a substance abuse counselor, it’s important to keep these requirements in mind. Regardless of your state, having a higher degree can open up more job opportunities.

For certain jobs, on-the-job training may be sufficient education and can replace the need for a degree. This experience can teach you how to handle different types of people and their needs.

State License or Certification

No matter what degree you have, most states require that mental health professionals have some form of license or certification. The requirements for getting a license or certification vary from each state and can also change for different jobs.

Getting a license or certification often requires you to have a specific number of supervised hours, as well as pass state and/or oral exams. You may have to renew your license or certification after a set number of years.

Additionally, some jobs or employers may require you to be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The NBCC has several certifications so you should research which one is the best fit for you and your career goals.

Background Check

As a part of the certification process, many states and jobs require that you pass a background check. This background check may look into a number of different things such as a history of felonies and child abuse charges.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but as with any career field, understanding what you are getting into is important, especially before you go to spend thousands of dollars on obtaining a specialized degree.

Other Career Options – Peer Counselor

If you find yourself dreading the idea of doing more school or on-the-job training, there are other similar careers you can pursue.

For example, a popular option for those who are not interested in a significant amount of additional schooling is to become a peer counselor. Be sure to check the requirements for your area and keep in mind that peer counselors often earn less than a certified or licensed counselor.

The Benefits of Beginner Coursework

If you don’t have a college degree but happen to live somewhere that requires one for addiction counseling, don’t fret! There are plenty of ways for you to work toward this type of career even if you are starting from scratch.

Many programs offer introductory courses that introduce all the main concepts of addiction counseling for a fraction of the cost of college courses. While they don’t provide the education necessary to get a license, they are a great way to learn the basics of the career so that you have a better understanding before you apply to a college or certification program.

For example, Stratford’s Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist course goes over many of the same topics you’d need to know to succeed in these programs, including:

  • Social psychology,
  • Causes of drug abuse,
  • Pharmacological effects of substances,
  • Types of drugs and their uses,
  • Assessment and treatment,
  • Programming planning, and
  • Prevention.

Knowing all these parts of the job is crucial if you decide to go through with further education, especially if it involves a practicum or internship. Thankfully, Stratford’s course covers everything you need to know to get started toward this career path.

Take an Introductory Course

Stratford Career Institute offers a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist course designed to help you gain a comprehensive look at what a career in this field entails, as well as provides in-depth information regarding the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful.

Whether you want a career in this field or simply want more information to help others in your personal life, the Stratford Career Institute’s course is a great place to start.

Enroll online today!


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Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Stratford Career Institute offers an affordable online course that covers everything you need to know about becoming a substance abuse counselor.