Everything You Need to Know About Being a Drug Abuse Counselor

As a kind-hearted person and empathetic person – you’re passionate about helping others. You’re thinking about turning this into a career as a drug abuse counselor. Whether you’ve personally battled an addiction, have watched a loved one struggle with it, or simply feel compassion for those afflicted by this disease, you want to make a difference.

Making a career move is a huge decision, so you want to be as informed as possible before taking this leap. Here’s everything you need to know about being a drug counselor, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Educational and Certification Requirements

In most cases, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree — at minimum — to become a drug abuse counselor. However, educational requirements vary by state and employer. Some may only require a high school diploma, while others call for a master’s degree. Outside of private practice, licensing requirements also vary by state.

However, if you want to work in private practice, you’ll need to be licensed, with a master’s degree, and 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You’ll also need to pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education courses annually.

Job Duties

As a drug abuse counselor, you’ll evaluate clients’ health — mental and physical — and create a custom treatment plan to meet their needs. You’ll help them develop positive skills modify negative behaviors into actions that support their recovery. This might involve meeting with their family members to educate them about addiction and provide the necessary tools to help them cope with these issues.

You might use concepts from 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous to help clients make positive changes. In many cases, you’ll also help them rebuild relationships — personal and professional — and get their career back on track.

Work Environment

Drug abuse counselors work in a variety of settings. Some of the most common include outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, individual and family services, hospitals, and residential mental health and substance abuse facilities. Additionally, employment is common at halfway houses, detox centers, and employee assistance programs.

Most drug abuse counselors work full-time, which may involve working on evenings, nights, and weekends. The job can also be mentally taxing at times, as it involves helping clients who may be under distress.


The median annual pay for drug abuse counselors was $47,660, as of May 2020. However, salaries can largely vary by employer type. For example, the average annual pay for a government-employed drug abuse counselor was $54,070, while those working in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities earned an average of $40,560 per year.

Employment Outlook

Working as a drug abuse counselor will likely present you with plentiful job opportunities. Employment for this field is expected to increase 23% from 2020-2030 — compared with 8% for all occupations.

This surge is due to more people seeking help for addiction, and an anticipated increase demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, more states are expected to seek treatment for people who break the law due to substance abuse issues, instead of giving them jail time.

Searching for the next step in your career?

Ready to start searching for drug abuse counselor job openings? If you would like to learn more about how we can help you find your next behavioral health position, contact us today at (513) 651-9500 or by email at info@psychpros.com.


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