Human Services Guide

Substance Abuse Counselor

The substance abuse counselor is a mental health counselor specializing in treating patients who have a chemical dependency on drugs or alcohol. Whether counseling addicts or those who fear they will become addicts, a substance abuse counselor works with their client to help overcome dependencies and become self-sufficient. The substance abuse counselor may also work closely with the family of the client as substance abuse inevitably affects the loved ones of the chemically dependent person. While challenging, the role of substance abuse counselor is one that can be extremely fulfilling. If you have a natural inclination towards helping those in need, a career as a substance abuse counselor might be just what you are looking for!

On this page you can find steps on how to become a substance/addiction counselor, you can also navigate to your home state to further see specific licensure requirements. As well, you can access schools both local and online who provide education to further become a substance or other type of professional in related fields.


Learn About Featured Substance Counseling Schools - Request Complimentary Program Information!

* Northwestern University - Online Master of Arts in Counseling, Bachelor's Required.

* NYU New York University - Online Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness

* Capella University - Online Master of Science in Addiction Studies, BS Psychology, MS Counseling, MS Psychology

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor is a moral accomplishment for the community in which the specialist practices in. Not only does it take dedication to helping other, it is an experience that will grow the counselor themselves into an individual helping to make a difference. To Become a Substance Abuse Counselor also known to be and Addiction Specialist, each state has a unique set of requirements that includes exams, fees, college degree education for specific levels of licensure and certification. You can access each state at the bottom of this page. In addition, a great resource to reference is is the NBCC and/or the NAADAC. The NBCC helps find the find applicable contact information for individual states, available licenses and required examinations. And the NAADC is a national certification exceeding most state requirements.

Steps to Become an Addiction/Substance Abuse Counselor

Earn an Accredited Bachelor’s Degree

Earn a Bachelor's Degree in a variety of majors as a prerequisite if you are choosing to take the next step to apply for a Master’s Degree. Otherwise if you decide to stop at Bachelor’s Degree it is highly recommended to earn a B.S. in Psychology or a closely related field to the Become an Addiction Specialist.

Earn an Accredited Master’s Degree in Counseling

Specify what type of counseling or psychology program you are looking to study. The most common option is a degree in Addiction Studies from an accredited CACREP accredited program. It may be a good idea to look at several schools to before narrowing down your decision after understanding what each program entails. Make sure the program will further set you up to meet all the exam and state requirements for the state you live in.

Take the Required Exam(s)

Find out what the required exam is for the state in which you wish to practice. Each state often has different exams and some states require certification through The National Counselor Exam NCE for to become a Licensed Addiction and Substance Abuse Counselor. If you are looking to specialize in Mental Health Counseling for Mental Health there is an additional National exam NCMHCE which is a requirement in some states for Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor certification. Always double check with the state boards in which you live in to follow all procedures and to most importantly study for the correct examination.

Choose Your Counseling Specialty

There are a variety of approaches to becoming a substance and addiction abuse specialist. Depending on where you are looking to focus your time whether it be in a government office setting, a private practice, a healthcare institution, etc. There may be several counseling and/or psychology paths to take. Depending on what specialty you choose, always check with your state to understand what credentials you will need to practice to further becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor also known as an Addiction Specialist.

Continue Your Addiction Counseling Education

Each state will have requirements to keep your credentials as a practicing counselor. You will need to check with your state about re-certification which may be required between three and ten years, all dependent on the state. There are a variety of ways to accrue these re-certifications which may include areas of your everyday work.

  • Substance Abuse Counseling Licensing Requirements In Your State
  • Substance abuse counselors are not able to prescribe medicine or give medical or psychological therapy. Rather they work with the client in an advocacy and mentoring capacity. The substance abuse counselor becomes a key figure in the life of the addict. From helping the client to see clearly the emotional underpinnings of their dependency to helping with more mundane tasks such as helping the client find or maintain employment, the substance abuse counselor works with the client to help them become self-sufficient in life.

    Some of the duties of a substance abuse counselor might include:

    • Working with the client to gain or maintain employment
    • Helping the client understand the nature of their addiction
    • Helping the client to have the support networks they need to break free of addiction
    • Helping the client create concrete plans to improve their life
    • Working with the clients family to help them heal from the trauma inflicted by addiction


    The substance abuse counselor has a noticeable impact on their community. Some ways they improve their community include:

    • Increase in community safety by helping addicts heal
    • Decrease in crime rates
    • Decrease in substance related hospitalizations
    • Safer roads
    • Decrease in domestic violence rates

    The family of a substance abuser is often fraught with difficulty, heartbreak and emotional trauma. By helping the family to understand the nature of addiction and its related emotional component the substance abuse counselor can help to shift the families understanding of their chemically addicted family member. By taking a collaborative and empowering approach, the substance abuse counselor can help the family to participate in the healing journey of their chemically addicted family member. The impact on the family is very significant and it is tremendously fulfilling for the substance abuse counselor to help reconciliation and healing on this level.

    For the chemically dependent person, the substance abuse counselor can act as a game changing influence in their life. By helping them to see clearly their patterns of addiction and problem avoidance, the substance abuse counselor can cause a radical shift in consciousness. This kind of empowerment can work to change forever the life course of the addict. From helping the client find employment to helping the addict reconcile with their family members, the substance abuse counselor works as both a mentor and an advocate in the life of the chemically dependent person. This can have a profound and lasting impact on the addict which is nothing short of life changing.

    Education to Join the Workforce

    To become a substance abuse counselor you will usually need at least a two year training program. However, increasingly a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Sociology, Social Work or a related field is required to be considered for a position. In addition, it is always wise to study a foreign language as bilingual and multilingual candidates are highly sought after.

    Range of Salaries for this Job

    The average wage on a nationwide basis for a substance abuse counselor is from: $32,050 to $59,2301
    What’s Next to Pursue this Career?
    To start you on your path towards becoming a substance abuse counselor it is advisable to get a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Sociology, Social Work or a related field. It is also wise to learn a foreign language as bilingual and multilingual employees are highly coveted. Here are some schools in your area that have degree programs in the field. Get started today on your exciting career as a substance abuse counselor!

    New Hampshire
    New Jersey
    New Mexico
    New York
    North Carolina
    North Dakota
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina
    South Dakota
    West Virginia