How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Get matched to a Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Program for FREE!



Substance abuse counselors help individuals overcome their reliance on certain vices, including habit-forming behaviors and addictive substances. While they commonly work with people struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction they also help people suffering from behavioral disorders. Substance abuse counselors assist these people by listening to their problems and putting them on a track toward recovery. They work in detox centers, halfway houses, prisons probation and parole centers, juvenile detention facilities, community centers and in many other locations.

Here are some things to consider when choosing an online substance abuse counselor program:

  • Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work in mental health centers, private practices, prisons and in community health centers primarily.
  • While the professional experience they need varies from institution to institution, some states require a degree, as well as a license to practice, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics[i].
  • Substance abuse counselors in private practices must have a master’s degree, which requires anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience. Moreover, states often require counselors to pass a recognized exam and attend continuing education courses on an annual basis.
  • While pursuing higher positions in private practices and other centers often requires a master’s degree, some institutions hire students that have not gone to graduate school but agree to complete on-the-job training.


With online substance abuse counselor schooling, you don’t have move your schedule around at the mercy of a class agenda. With just a few clicks, you can begin courses and potentially earn your way to pursuing an exciting new career. What’s more, these classes may teach you about the basic techniques employed by these counselors and inform you about the common problems their patients face.


There are many career paths you may choose to pursue after attending online courses in a substance abuse counselor program. Research what routes may interest you beforehand. Here are some salary and job growth figures for substance abuse counselor careers that could help you make your decision:


These professionals help victims of drug and alcohol addiction as well as those who have been affected by behavioral disorders like anxiety and depression. They work directly with patients and other professionals like psychiatrists and social workers to diagnose and treat these conditions.

Median Salary: $43,300 per year
Job growth through 2026: 23% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry-level education: Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.


The work of a rehabilitation counselor is more personalized in some ways but equally delicate. These professionals specifically provide support to clients with emotional and physical disabilities in the hopes of helping them live independently with ease. They work in similar environments compared to substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, including mental health centers, prisons and private practices. The educational requirements for these professionals is typically more rigorous as the average employer will require that employees have a master’s degree.

Median Salary: $34,860 per year
Job growth through 2026: 13% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry-level education: Master’s Degree


The responsibilities of a social worker are often broader than substance abuse counselors. They identify people who need help with a wide variety of challenges and assist them in finding resources and develop plans to improve well-being. While this may include people struggling with addictions, it can also include people struggling with divorce, unemployment, illness and other obstacles. They research and refer clients to other resources if necessary.

Median Salary: $47,980 per year
Job growth through 2026: 16% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry-level education: Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after they’ve completed their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.


© Education Connection 2019. All Rights Reserved.

EducationDynamics maintains business relationships with the schools it features.

Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.