Addiction affects tens of millions of people in the United States directly and many millions more indirectly. These statistics encompass everything from drug and alcohol use all the way to financially crippling gambling addictions, and the numbers keep climbing.
With over 23.5 million Americans addicted to alcohol and drugs and even more who have other addictions, there is an urgent need for counselors to help those who use as well as their loved ones.
If your heart is calling you to help people get treatment for their addictions, you may be interested in becoming an addiction counselor.
What does an addiction counselor do?
When an addict seeks treatment for dependence on a substance or behavior, such as drugs, alcohol, or gambling, an addiction counselor steps in to help. These licensed professionals can work in an outpatient facility, an inpatient rehab center, a hospital, or in other settings where a person wants to be helped for their addiction.
Steps to become an addiction counselor
Becoming an addiction counselor requires you to pursue your education through obtaining your master's degree. These four steps will take you to a career in substance abuse or addiction counseling with an addiction counseling degree.
Obtain your Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Studies or Substance Abuse. Whether you choose the standard two-year associate degree and continue on to earn a bachelor’s or find a program that gives you the four-year bachelor’s degree in one stop, you will need a minimum of this degree to become an addiction counselor.
Obtain your Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling. Some positions will allow you to work as an addiction counselor with your bachelor's degree, but most institutions, including private practices, require a master’s from an accredited institution.
This master's degree is also important if you are looking for further certifications to attach to your license, such as the National Certified Counselor from the National Board for Certified Counselors
Complete the requirements for your state licensure. These requirements vary depending on the state you will be working in, but if you plan to work in your own private practice, you will need to be licensed with the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Gain experience and apply for industry certifications. As an addiction counselor, your education will be ongoing. An addiction counselor certificate with specializations in differing areas can net you more pay and better job opportunities. You can earn further certifications through your continuing education and work experience.
What training and education do you need to become an addiction counselor?
Addiction counselor training and education is an extensive path because you will rarely be dealing with a cookie-cutter situation. Addiction itself does not discriminate, so addicts come in all shapes and sizes with various issues that you will have to help them work through to fight their dependence.
The addiction counselor career path takes students through the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs mentioned above, and then to the state licensing requirements. But before you can apply for your license, you will have to complete supervised training hours as required in your jurisdiction.
Addiction counselor requirements to licensure vary based on your education level as well. Most undergraduate-level applicants can expect to spend anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 hours working under supervision before getting their license. Those with a master’s degree can expect to be required to have somewhere around 1,000 supervised hours.
Because of this variance in training hours, the question, “How long does it take to become an addiction counselor” has a range of answers. The path each person takes to become an addiction counselor is different for every individual, but the basic requirements are the same.
Are there other requirements to be an addiction counselor?
While the education and certification requirements are a must, to become a truly successful addiction counselor, experts recommend that you have a passion for the field. Many have gone into this line of work because they themselves have either overcome addiction or have experienced a loved one’s struggle with it.
The long hours on the road to becoming an addiction counselor require you to have a dedication to this career, and the difficult situations you are likely to be dealing with while you are counseling addicts will be easier to manage if you are passionate about what you do.
What is the average salary of an addiction counselor?
Certified addiction counselors are in demand, and with the significant rise of so many people addicted to opioids and other drugs, that demand is projected to rise steadily. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that by the year 2026, job growth for addiction counselors and other mental health counselors will have risen by 23%.
Going into this extensive field of education has to be balanced with the question, “How much does an addiction counselor make?”
According to Payscale, the average addiction counselor salary is $38,527, but the range can be between $27,365 - $50,354. Salary ranges depend on your education level, your experience, and your location.
For example, the average addiction counselor salary in New York City is $39,787. Los Angeles substance abuse and addiction counselors can expect to make around $40,607, and those in the Houston, Texas area net $37,528 per year. An addiction counselor in Boston averages $40,515 annually.
Ready to Become an Addiction Counselor
If you have a passion for helping others overcome their addictions, or aiding those who have lived with someone with a chronic addiction learn how to cope, then addiction counseling is a field that is in urgent need of your skills.
The demand is expected to increase, so your investment in your education and experience will always be needed as well. Start exploring your education options today and you can quickly be on the road to helping others recover from addiction.