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How do I Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2018
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There is more than one way to become a substance abuse counselor. Each region makes its own rules on what qualifies a person for this job and these rules vary as to the level of education and experience required. Some locations won’t grant this official recognition to anyone who doesn’t have significant background as a counselor, social worker or therapist, and others will allow those with experience to get certain forms of certification, even if experience does not include education past high school. This means people must check the requirements within their area to determine exactly how certification and education are defined.

It cannot hurt to get some education in order to become a substance abuse counselor, and there is some talk of eventually standardizing requirements. This would mean people with minimal education might need to go back to school if standardization were national. A bachelor’s degree is a good place to start, and subjects that could be most useful include social work, psychology, or sociology. These majors can help people get a thorough grounding in the issues they’ll face as counselors.

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Equally important is experience. While in college, people should look for local drug/alcohol centers, mental hospitals, jails, or advocacy groups where they can begin to learn on their feet. Many regions will not let people become a substance abuse counselor unless they’ve met a certain amount of hours of experience requirements. People should start meeting this as soon as they can, and simply remember to document hours and have this signed by supervisors. It’s worth repeating that volunteers need to do this in the way mandated by their region so that it counts.

Sometimes, a person cannot become a substance abuse counselor without earning a master’s degree, and may need to earn this in a counseling field. The choices are typically earning a licensed professional counseling degree (LPC), a marriage and family therapist degree (MFT) or a master’s in social work (MSW). In addition to the degree, the person may have to fulfill all requirements for getting licensing, which could mean several thousand hours of supervised work. In other instances, these degrees are used specifically for certification to become a substance abuse counselor and don’t require license completion.

Given the variety of ways people become a substance abuse counselor, it’s hard to recommend a single “best way.” It is easier to comment on some aspects of the work like the fact that it can be highly stressful and challenging, requiring good energy, emotional stability, and a strong sense of self. The work may be varied too, and some people might be a counselor at a methadone clinic while others work in a substance abuse hospital. Payment for this job is often not in keeping with its requirements, and median pay for full time counselors rarely exceeds $40,000 US Dollars (USD).

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anon336104
Post 1

Thanks so much for this information. I recently enrolled with Penn Foster for the substance abuse counselor course. When I finish I will have a diploma, but it will not be a degree. Do you know what type of entry level job I could get with this diploma?

I live in Arizona, and I'm not sure if they would except me because it is not a degree. I am planing on volunteering and also I will do a 300-hour practicum.

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