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Substance Abuse Counselor Career Outlook and Salary

Millions of Americans suffer from substance abuse and dependencies.

  • 17.6 million, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
  • An estimated 20 million Americans, age 12 and older, have used an illegal drug in the past 30 days, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Becoming a substance abuse or behavioral counselor can allow you to help those seeking treatment and overcome challenges within a growing profession.

Prevention and treatment services for addiction and mental health disorders are projected to rise, causing hospitals, treatment centers and counseling facilities to hire more counselors to meet the increase in demand. Demand for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is projected to grow 22% through 2024, higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The growth is due to several reasons, such as:

  • The Affordable Care Act requires most insurance plans to provide coverage for mental health services, which may have been not covered previously.
  • More states are expected to shift sentencing from jail time to treatment and services for drug and alcohol offenders.

What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors consult and advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or other behavioral problems, such as gambling or eating disorders. Counselors interview clients or patients, individually or in group sessions, and provide treatment and support to help clients or patients recover from addiction, overcome dependencies and modify problem behaviors.

Typical job duties include:

  • Evaluating clients’ mental and physical health, addiction, or problem behavior
  • Assessing readiness for treatment and developing treatment goals and plans
  • Helping clients develop skills and behaviors needed to overcome dependencies
  • Counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with and supporting clients and patients

Job Outlook and Salary Range for Substance Abuse Counselors

U.S. News & World Report ranked Substance Abuse Counseling as No. 5 in Best Social Services Jobs and No. 74 in The 100 Best Jobs of 2017, which considers employment rates, salary data and future job growth.

Federal projections estimate that the number of jobs will increase to 116,200 in 2024 as compared to 94,900 in 2014, according to the BLS.

The median annual salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $41,070 in May 2016, according to the BLS. Counselors employed by state, local and private hospitals earned $48,300 annually.

A career as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor can offer opportunities in a variety of settings including hospitals, prisons, government agencies, mental health and substance abuse centers, detention centers and schools. Job titles within this field may include addictions counselor, case manager, chemical dependency counselor, correctional substance abuse counselor, and drug and alcohol treatment specialist.

Education and Training for Substance Abuse Counselors

Earning a bachelor’s degree is typically required of most positions in this field, according to the BLS. Coursework for a degree in psychology with a concentration in Addiction and Substance Abuse may entail understanding trauma and addiction, working with special populations such as teens, veterans or people with disabilities, and learning various approaches to the process of counseling and psychotherapy.

Some individuals may be able to advance professionally if they pursue a graduate or doctorate degree. The top 10% of professionals employed in this field earned at least $65,080 in 2016, according to the BLS.

Several factors including a candidate’s educational attainment, professional experience and regional market conditions may affect salary potential and job opportunities.

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