Substance Abuse Counselor Salary With Masters

Substance abuse counselors are some of the most important people in the field of mental health. They work with people who have substance abuse problems, as well as their families, to help them find recovery and sobriety.

A substance abuse counselor earns an hourly wage, as well as annual salary. The amount of a substance abuse counselor’s salary depends on their level of education and experience.

The average annual salary for a substance abuse counselor with a bachelor’s degree is $43,000. A substance abuse counselor with a master’s degree earns an average annual salary of $50,000.

What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor is a mental health professional who helps patients struggling with addictions. The main responsibility is to work with individuals and their families to treat both mental and emotional disorders, as well as to promote overall mental health.

Sometimes called “therapists,” mental health counselors train in a variety of therapeutic techniques. They treat emotional conditions, such as depression, addiction and substance abuse, suicidal impulses, stress and overall problems with self-esteem and grief.

Also known as drug and alcohol counselors, these professionals work individually with patients and in group counseling sessions, depending on the kind of treatment needed. The goal is to help clients pinpoint situations and behaviors that lead to relapse or block the road to recovery. Drug counselors can also help clients find jobs or refer them to other resources, services, and support groups.
In some cases, an addiction counselor may also conduct programs or informational sessions that teach not only their clients, but also family and friends of patients about addiction, behavioral disorders, coping strategies, signs of addiction, and how to avoid destructive behavior.

Mental health professionals work in a variety of environments with a diverse demographic of people. They often work flexible hours to accommodate families in crisis or those who require evening or weekend appointments.  Addiction counseling and drug counseling is offered in general health care facilities such as state, local, and private hospitals or in private practices. Prisons, probation and parole agencies, detox centers, halfway houses, and juvenile detention facilities are also common work environments for substance abuse counselors. They work closely with other health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses and school counselors.

Job descriptions may vary but skills such as active listening, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, and deductive reasoning are all paramount to success and safety as a counselor.  Specific work responsibilities can include:

  • Maintaining client records
  • Writing reports and evaluations
  • Interviewing and assessing clients
  • Collaborating with other professionals to evaluate clients and patients

What does a Substance Abuse Counselor do? What is the role of an Addiction Counselor?

A typical client who has been abusing substances may find their addiction to include alcohol, illegal drugs such as amphetamines, opiates, cocaine, or prescription medications. Substance abuse is a dependency on any mood-altering substance. As defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)External link:open_in_new addiction is a “treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.”

Without treating the addiction or engaging in recovery activities, the addiction can progress, resulting in disability or premature death.

While there are similarities of behavior across all types of substance abuse, an experienced substance abuse/addiction counselor knows to carefully treat each client as an individual with a unique history, personality traits, and pattern of abuse. Treatment plansExternal link:open_in_new are personalized based on a range of factors and may include individual or group therapy, as part of a comprehensive inpatient or outpatient treatment plan.

Substance abuse counselors must skillfully forge a trusting therapeutic relationship with their client, while they continue to assess their needs and progress, as summarized by the National Institute on Drug AbuseExternal link:open_in_new. A skilled counselor will help their client to become invested in the process. A substance abuse counselor is one part of a larger treatment plan that may also include a community support group such as Alcoholics AnonymousExternal link:open_in_new (AA), alcoholism education, halfway houses and/or medication as prescribed by a psychiatrist or other medical doctor. Successful outcomes have been attributed to intervention, aversion therapy, stress management, solution-focused brief therapy, and social skills training.

The substance abuse counselor must determine the optimal counseling modality (cognitive, experiential, behavioral, dynamic) at each progression. Successful counseling has process factors including the counselor’s establishing an open and collaborative rapport, facilitating client cognitive learning through reframing, feedback, and insight, and assisting the client in behavior changes through behavioral regulation, reality testing, and successful experiences. A successful substance abuse/addiction counselor will establish trust, create structure, address problems, and incorporate various therapeutic techniques where appropriate.

The optimal outcome is for clients to be able to successfully utilize the tools you have given them to achieve and maintain abstinence, reestablish their lives, make amends, and continue on with their daily life confidently, healthily and carefully.

Steps to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Step 1: Complete a bachelor’s degree in addiction studies, behavioral, social science, psychology, or another field.

Because a master’s degree is a requirement for a licensure counselor, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse and/or addiction studies, psychologysocial work, or a related field sets the groundwork for rehabilitation counseling students. Coursework for undergraduate studies in these fields will typically include the evaluation of human development, counseling foundation, theories of personality, foundations of addictions, and introduction to psychology.

Step 2: Earn a master’s degree in substance abuse and/or addiction counseling.

Some substance abuse counselor positions require only a bachelor’s. However to be licensed and certified, you must earn your master’s degree. The National Certified CounselorExternal link:open_in_new is a prerequisite for Master Addiction Counselor certificationExternal link:open_in_new. All NCCs must hold a master’s degree in counseling. Thus, obtaining your graduate degree in counseling is a requirement for practice as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and clinical substance abuse disorder counselorExternal link:open_in_new.

Step 3: Complete graduate and postgraduate internship experience for certification/licensure requirements.

As a crucial aspect of accredited counseling master’s programs, graduate supervised counseling experience provides students with insight into their future role as a substance abuse counselor, gaining hands-on experience under other professional counselors.

Step 4: Pass any required substance counseling exams for licensure and certification.

Some states and/or counseling programs require the passing of a recognized examination for graduation or licensure such as the National Counselor ExaminationExternal link:open_in_new (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling ExaminationExternal link:open_in_new (NCMHCE). Some organizations require an examination to receive certification or credentialing. Check the available licenses and required examinations for counselorsExternal link:open_in_new in your state through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) and apply for licensure.

Step 5: Apply for and earn additional counseling certifications.

Licensed professional counselors can pursue a national certification through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) offers three different credentialsExternal link:open_in_new with additional specializations.

Step 6: Continue your education and stay up to date on substance abuse and addiction counseling trends and changes.

Continuing education is imperative to maintaining professional counseling licensure/certificationExternal link:open_in_new and keeping up-to-date with any updates to the substance abuse and addictions field.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

There are four distinct steps to become a substance abuse counselor:

  1. Earn an accredited counseling degree;
  2. Work as a counselor and acquire supervised clinical practice hours;
  3. Pass a felony and child abuse background check;
  4. Pass a national or state licensing or certification exam post-degree.

substance abuse counselor salary by state

State NameAverage Salary
North Dakota$53,990
New Jersey$50,010
New Mexico$49,780
New York$48,660
District of Columbia$45,050
New Hampshire$44,740
North Carolina$42,640
South Dakota$38,710
Rhode Island$37,890
South Carolina$35,550
West Virginia$32,180
Puerto Rico$27,550

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