What Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Do?

Substance abuse

A substance abuse counselor is a psychological health expert whose job is to assist individuals in fighting drug addictions.  The key duty is to work with the individuals plus their families and friends in treating both psychological and emotional ailments related to abuse and help their general psychological health.

At times these types of experts are also referred to as psychiatrists because they are trained in various therapeutic skills. They deal with several emotional conditions such as substance abuse, addiction, depression, stress, suicidal impulses, and problems mostly related to self-esteem and grief. These professionals work individually with their patients who are addicts in the majority of cases. Substance counseling can also be done in group sessions. It all depends on the type of treatment needed.

The main objective is to assist an addict in identifying the circumstances and actions that resulted in their deterioration and start the road to recovery. Substance counselors could also assist their patients to get jobs or send them to other services, resources, and support groups so that they can become more productive members of the community.   

In some instances, a substance abuse counselor could also do programs or information sessions that educate both the ailing and their family and friends on drug addiction, the signs, and symptoms of addiction, managing strategies, behavioral ailments, and how to evade bad abuse-related behavior. The counselors normally work in different settings and environs and with a varied demographic of individuals. They work flexible hours so that they can contain families in crisis or employed couples who need to have weekend or evening appointments.

Where Will You Work As a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Typically, substance abuse counselors work in general health care facilities locally, in the state, and private hospitals or in private practice. Other regular working settings for this profession are detox centers, juvenile detention facilities, schools, prisons, halfway houses, and even probation and parole agencies. Psychological health counselors also practice their duties hand in hand with other health experts, such as clinical social workers, psychiatrist nurses, school counselors, psychologist, and psychiatrists.


Much of this job requires the counselor to communicate in both one-on-one and group surroundings. In as much as the job descriptions may differ, as a counselor, skills such as active listening, critical thinking, social sensitivity, and deductive reasoning are all vital to success and safety.
The particular work activities can include: 

  • Questioning and evaluating clients. Counselors can also collaborate with other experts to assess clients and addicts.
  • keeping patient records 
  • Writing assessments and reports

Stages for Becoming a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor

If you want to earn the title of a substance abuse counselor, a high school diploma is the minimum academic requirement, but it will depend on your state. In the majority of states, the lowest possible requirement is a bachelor’s degree plus overseen experience, under a certified counselor who must be working with drug and alcohol addicts. In other states, the minimum requirement is a master’s degree and a license to practice. You can confirm with your particular state for the detailed requirements.

So, to summarize everything for you, here is a breakdown of the requirements you should have achieved, to receive a substance abuse counselor license, in most states:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree and complete the required hours of work experience necessary for your target job.
  2. Take your counseling exam. Of course, you must pass.
  3. Be a qualified counselor.
  4. Apply for a job as a substance abuse counselor.
  5. Get drug tested, accept a background check, then go for an interview.
  6. Be employed as a counselor
  7. Undergo adequate training
  8. Renew your license after every 5 years.

Point to note:

Certain entry-level jobs in this field may not need a degree plus experience. However, if your objective is becoming licensed, then you must fulfill these requirements.

Job Titles You May Have in This Career Career Path

The probable titles you could have in this field include:

  • Clinical Counselor
  • Addictions Counselor
  • DATS (Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist)
  • Case Manager
  • Substance Misuse Counselor
  • Substance Use Counselor
  • Behavioral Disorder Counselor
  • Chemical Dependency Counselor

The Income and Job Outlook for Substance Abuse Counselors

As per the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the United States, the mean annual salary for substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder experts in 2016 was approximately $43,000.