How to Become an Addiction Counselor


Addiction counselors, also known as substance abuse counselors, perform individual and/or group sessions with those who have drug and/or alcohol issues. An addiction counselor often combines 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous with traditional behavioral therapy. It is important to note that an addiction counselor can also treat those with a gambling, hoarding, food and/or exercise addictions, but this article is designed to help you become a drug and alcohol addiction counselor.

If you are interested in becoming an addiction counselor, you will need to fulfill certain educational, certification and/or licensure requirements. This article will teach you everything you need to know to enter the field of addiction counseling.

What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?

As an addiction counselor you may be required to work evenings, nights, holidays and/or weekends. You may also be a part of a triage team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, physicians, and/or registered nurses (RNs). In addition, you will probably work for a social service agency, private practice, clinic or hospital.

When you become an addiction counselor, you will not only help your clients recognize their addiction-related triggers, but also teach them how to effectively manage stressful and challenging situations so that they do not feel the need to turn to drugs and/or alcohol when distressed. In addition, you maybe responsible for helping your clients restore their romantic and family relationships, establish or rebuild their careers and improve their self-esteem.

Moreover, you may teach them how to effectively communicate with their family, friends and work associates when they feel stressed. Lastly, one of your main tasks will be to encourage your clients to openly discuss their addiction(s) with those that care about them.

Other tasks that you will perform as an addiction counselor include the following:

  • Assessing your client’s physical and mental health
  • Gauging your client’s openness to treatment
  • Developing a treatment plan for your client
  • Making treatment recommendations
  • Teaching your client communication and coping skills that can help him/her maintain sobriety.
  • Helping your client modify his/her behavior so that he/she does not automatically turn to drugs and/or alcohol when stressed.
  • Helping your client identify addiction-related triggers so that he/she can avoid them.
  • Educating your client’s family on drug and/or alcohol addictions
  • Recommending valuable resources and/or services such as support groups or job placement services.

What are the Requirements to Become an Addiction Counselor?

Educational Requirements

In order to become an addiction counselor you will need to obtain a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree in addiction psychology, sociology or a related field. You may also be required to obtain a master’s degree in psychology or sociology. It is important to note that the more education you have, the more jobs you will be offered.

For instance, if you have a master’s degree in psychology or sociology, you will be able to provide counseling services to your clients, but if you only have a bachelor’s degree you may have to work under a master’s level counselor, psychologist, physician or psychiatrist. Make sure you research your state’s addiction counseling requirements before you choose an undergraduate and graduate counseling program.

Related Reading: How to Become an Addiction Therapist


If you are interested in working in a private practice as an addiction counselor, you will be required to be licensed. You will need to obtain a master’s degree in psychology, sociology or a related field along with approximately 2,500 hours of supervised clinical hours before you will be able to work in this setting.

Furthermore, you will need to successfully pass your counseling licensure exam and fulfill your continued education requirements every 2 to 3 years. Licensure requirements vary from state to state so it is important that you thoroughly research the requirements before scheduling your licensure exam.

How Much Does an Addiction Counselor Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an addiction counselor is $41,870, as of May 2014. Addiction counselors that fall in the lower 10% typically earn approximately $25,000 annually while those that fall in the top 10% usually earn $61,000 or more annually.

What is the Career Outlook for Addiction Counselors?

The career outlook is very good for addiction counselors, especially for those that have advanced training and experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), the job market for addiction counseling is expected to increase by approximately 31% by 2022. It is estimated that there will be a significant increase in substance abusers that require addiction counseling.

In addition, the job market for residential addiction counselors is expected to increase by 44% by the year in 2020 ( As more and more people seek counseling services, there will also be an additional need for addiction counselors in residential treatment facilities. Furthermore, as the number of drug offenders increases, there will be an increased need for addiction counselors to provide counseling services to incarcerated individuals.

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