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How to Become a Chemical Dependency Counselor

What Does a Chemical Dependency Counselor Do?

chemical dependency counselor with couple

Though not everyone recognizes chemical dependency as a medical condition, indeed it is – a chronic, relapsing medical condition with devastating personal and social consequences. Chemical dependency counselors help people who suffer from drug dependency to break the cycle of addiction and recover their lives, as well as to overcome the stigma associated with this disease.

These professionals must have a diverse set of skills at their disposal to help clients master both the physical and psychological elements of chemical dependency. Because substance abuse causes neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain, withdrawal creates distressing physical symptoms, sensory symptoms, and even behavioral problems. Concomitant with the physical manifestations of withdrawal are the psychological symptoms it engenders. People often become drug dependent in the first place to help manage overwhelming feelings or distressing circumstances. Remove the mood-altering chemical and the feelings return, often exacerbated by years of abuse.

A chemical dependency counselor is sometimes the only lifeline available to someone suffering from drug dependency. The counselor helps those who are addicted to alcohol, narcotics, prescription medications and other drugs by:

  • Determining the underlying causes of dependence
  • Collaborating with the treatment team to create an individual rehabilitation plan
  • Providing education and emotional support
  • Delivering therapy and other interventions
  • Involving the clients’ loved ones in treatment (with permission)
  • Making referrals to treatment programs and healthcare providers

Chemical dependency counselors work to create rapport with their clients and understand the roots of their dependency, as well as the ongoing “triggers” that inspire drug use. Many successful counselors are themselves recovering addicts who have earned their stripes in the process of recovery and can draw on their own experiences to both help and inspire their clients. While firsthand experience with addiction is not sufficient or necessary in order to become a drug counselor, it is a common and influential part of many counselors’ pasts.

Once a therapeutic relationship is established, a counselor and client work through the interventions prescribed by the client’s treatment program, which varies depending upon the type of addiction and the nature of the program. During the course of working with a client, behavioral interventions are staged or assigned; emotions are processed; talk therapy is provided; group sessions are attended or facilitated; and treatment sessions with family and friends are scheduled. The client-counselor relationship should be seen as highly collaborative and intimate, with a great deal of intense, honest interaction that is incredibly personalized.

Recovery is a lifelong process; not only must the chemical dependency be overcome, but changes in lifestyle and patterns of thinking and interaction must be made as well. This means that counselors can see clients for months or even years, creating a unique relationship based upon hope, recovery, empathy, and belief in the possibility of ongoing self-improvement. Very few people can claim to have a career that involves positively influencing the lives of other people on a regular basis – a chemical dependency counselor is one of them.

Workplace Details

Because addiction counseling involves individuals, families and groups of clients, these professionals spend most of the workday closely interacting with people. Counselors also work closely with other members of the treatment team, including nurses, physicians and social workers.

Chemical dependency counselors must schedule their work around the needs of clients. Therefore, they often respond to crises and provide counseling outside regular business hours. Depending on their work setting, they are on call during nights and weekends. In inpatient facilities, counselors generally work rotating shifts that include evenings, overnights, weekends and holidays.

Chemical dependency counselors work in many settings, including:

  • General and psychiatric hospitals
  • Substance abuse treatment facilities
  • Outpatient treatment centers
  • Social service agencies
  • Private practices
  • Halfway houses
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Correctional facilities

In all settings, the counselors are subjected to high-pressure scenarios and clients who are victims of poverty, crime, abuse, neglect, and assorted other traumas. An aspiring counselor should be aware of the difficulty and stress of the job, as well as the awesome potential to change lives.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$44450
New York
$50350
Pennsylvania
$42890
Massachusetts
$45520
Florida
$46010

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$38,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$33,360$46,590$81,350
Huntsville$18,730$31,790$52,500

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$48,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$31,200$43,730$58,250

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$38,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$25,150$40,700$62,680
Tuscon$24,800$32,770$52,380

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$34,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$20,890$31,380$57,120
Fort Smith$21,980$29,450$58,460

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$37,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 370

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$21,910$34,880$56,460
San Francisco Bay$28,250$40,880$73,830
San Diego$25,660$37,580$53,490
Sacramento$22,610$31,620$66,270

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$41,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 38%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$26,440$45,570$73,940
Colorado Springs$19,250$34,710$46,830

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$46,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$32,160$46,780$66,230
Bridgeport$30,180$41,710$62,010
New Haven$26,510$46,340$68,270

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$38,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$31,260$38,840$60,560

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$46,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$31,890$53,060$91,410

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$42,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$23,390$45,520$75,020
Orlando$25,170$39,030$68,430
Tampa$27,630$50,920$73,970
Jacksonville$24,940$39,650$62,510

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$39,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$27,330$40,710$66,420

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$41,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$26,910$39,010$59,920

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$42,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 270

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$25,390$41,020$50,880

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$34,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$24,140$32,570$54,990
Rockford$28,500$37,580$63,110

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$36,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$28,690$37,060$52,160
Fort Wayne$27,790$40,920$56,800

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$37,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$23,540$41,830$70,000
Cedar Rapids$30,800$44,850$63,710

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$35,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$18,070$30,550$53,420
Kansas City$25,980$33,250$50,630

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$34,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$22,850$29,930$49,120
Lexington$21,870$32,300$50,060

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$34,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $55,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$17,800$31,490$58,520
Baton Rouge$29,340$37,000$58,530
Lafayette$16,760$38,410$58,480

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$42,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$34,620$43,510$49,560
Lewiston$27,090$34,380$43,410

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$42,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$29,690$41,970$61,650
Frederick$23,280$38,440$69,070

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$39,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$26,530$38,780$62,130
Worcester$30,700$53,200$73,320
Springfield$31,570$50,440$62,910

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$37,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$25,930$35,820$54,380
Grand Rapids$35,970$51,040$66,190

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$45,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$34,350$45,460$59,420
Rochester$37,610$44,960$50,710

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$27,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$23,530$28,320$53,660
Gulfport$22,220$27,180$43,430

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$34,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$25,570$37,700$52,750
Kansas City$25,980$33,250$50,630

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$38,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$32,810$45,240$59,990

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$38,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$28,020$38,190$58,290
Lincoln$31,240$38,120$53,810

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$44,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$31,770$43,660$60,740
Reno$31,130$47,220$73,900

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$48,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $92,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$46,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$34,350$47,290$68,730
Trenton$31,100$50,400$73,740

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$42,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Cruces$22,950$40,800$62,440

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$47,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 430

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$29,470$51,140$76,680
Buffalo$27,420$40,780$59,410
Rochester$31,390$39,550$59,650
Albany$31,760$44,100$56,080

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$42,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$29,830$41,260$61,990
Raleigh$34,420$44,660$55,820
Greensboro$34,360$44,140$58,910
Winston - Salem$27,620$36,150$49,650

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$51,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$41,810$50,920$64,110
Bismarck$42,220$51,400$61,600

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$40,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$29,810$40,930$62,150
Columbus$29,660$45,610$72,890
Cincinnati$27,030$38,680$61,750
Dayton$32,350$44,650$60,370

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$39,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$26,750$38,570$59,100
Tulsa$17,390$42,510$90,880

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$39,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$30,490$41,930$88,300
Salem$32,970$45,900$61,020

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$40,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$31,680$43,450$63,080
Pittsburgh$25,490$34,680$55,160
Harrisburg$24,230$37,240$61,500
Allentown$30,810$44,160$63,380

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$37,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$22,370$34,530$49,790

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$36,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $52,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$29,200$39,760$49,730
Columbia$23,140$37,650$56,130
Charleston$24,290$36,940$49,780

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$37,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$27,600$37,330$49,730
Rapid City$28,050$38,870$49,810

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$34,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 39%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$23,840$39,160$58,500
Memphis$26,140$44,900$68,640
Knoxville$20,030$27,810$52,410
Chattanooga$23,970$36,960$57,890

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$37,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$26,260$42,010$60,330
Houston$28,050$37,560$61,530
San Antonio$23,970$36,960$57,890
Austin$27,010$36,530$50,760

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$36,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $17,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$22,720$40,840$61,870
Ogden$28,050$36,300$53,400

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$50,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$31,760$44,500$67,650

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$42,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$32,460$39,380$62,420
Richmond$31,870$39,400$60,040

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$37,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$23,400$38,560$55,770
Spokane$26,000$35,230$46,250

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$29,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $42,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$26,130$33,330$44,730
Charleston$24,850$30,950$43,830

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$41,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$24,610$42,010$78,600
Madison$36,370$50,340$95,010

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$45,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Casper$28,180$44,660$61,940

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for chemical dependency counselors is $41,070 per year, with a range of $26,210 to $65,080 (the medians of the bottom 10% and top 10% of earners, respectively). Counselors who work for hospitals and local government agencies earn the highest salaries, particularly those with advanced degrees who work in managerial positions. Those who work for social services generally earn an average income. Residential rehabilitation centers often pay below-average salaries. In addition, a lower education level or less work experience also predict a lower income; entry-level counselors often start with an annual income close to the low end of the provided range.

Job opportunities for chemical dependency counselors are expected to increase by 22% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. This growth rate – much higher than average – is due to the fact that more people are seeking treatment for substance abuse problems. In addition, the justice system is ordering more and more offenders into substance abuse treatment programs as a replacement for time in prison or probation. In addition, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides increased coverage for therapeutic services, including chemical dependency treatment, which is expected to cause an increase in the number of people seeking help for drug or alcohol addiction.

Job prospects will be best for counselors with an advanced degree, national certification and a strong track record of professional development.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$51140 Per Year

$24.58 Per Hour

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$34880 Per Year

$16.76 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Chemical Dependency Counselor

1

Check the requirements where you live.

Depending on location, education level and job requirements, chemical dependency counselors can receive a significant portion of their training on the job. Work in outpatient facilities, group therapy facilities, halfway houses, and related facilities may only require on-the-job training, with no prior licensing or certification period whatsoever. During the training, counselors work with experienced clinicians to sharpen their skills and learn to deal with common problems that arise in treatment. “Shadowing” an experienced counselor throughout the workday is a common method of on-the-job training. Slowly, as training continues, a new counselor is integrated into his or her facility and granted more independence.

2

Earn a college degree.

Educational requirements for chemical dependency counselors do vary by state, but most employers prefer candidates with an associate or bachelor’s degree, depending on the job requirements. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network maintains a searchable directory of training programs on its website.

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3

Attend graduate school (again, depending on your career goals).

A graduate degree in counseling is a must for those who wish to conduct psychotherapy or go into private practice. When enrolling in a graduate program, it is important to choose one that is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Educational programs in Addiction Studies are available throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe; the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network provides information on all of these programs as well.

4

Get licensed, depending on your state.

Many (but not all) states license chemical dependency counselors. In order to earn a license, candidates must generally meet education and work experience requirements and pass an exam. Some states offer multiple certification levels based on educational achievement and work experience. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center maintains an online directory of state regulating boards.

5

Consider certification options.

In addition to state licensure, counselors often pursue voluntary certification as a National Certified Counselor through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This certification requires a master’s degree in counseling, 3,000 hours of documented work experience and a passing score on the National Counselor Examination. The experience requirement is waived for graduates of CACREP-accredited degree programs.

Experienced chemical dependency counselors often pursue voluntary certification as a Master Addictions Counselor (MAC). The NBCC and the American Counseling Association jointly administer the credential. Candidates must have three years of supervised work experience in the field; meet rigorous educational requirements; and pass an exam. In order to renew their state licenses, counselors must fulfill continuing education requirements by taking courses on relevant topics annually.

6

Explore opportunities to advance your career.

Chemical dependency counselors often further their careers through higher education and extensive work experience. An experienced professional who holds a master’s degree can supervise the work of junior counselors or hold an administrative position within treatment centers and social service agencies. Those who hold a doctorate are able to work as professors or conduct research in the field. An advanced degree, national certification and a strong track record of professional development generally increase the potential for advancement. However, the vast majority of chemical dependency counselors work primarily with clients throughout the entirety of their careers.

Exploring Degree Paths

In many areas, you can practice as chemical dependency counselor without a degree so long as you meet your state’s licensure requirements. For details, contact your state’s regulatory board.

Most states offer several levels of licensure in chemical dependency counseling. Without a degree, you’ll be limited to entry-level and intermediate credentials. Your duties at this level might include:

  • Conducting intake interviews
  • Short-term counseling to identify issues and assist with basic problem solving
  • Crisis response
  • Facilitating therapeutic and educational groups
  • Serving as a liaison to human services agencies and community resources
  • Clerical and record-keeping duties

To become licensed, you’ll need to take state-approved classes in subjects like ethics, pharmacology, and cultural diversity and gain some nonclinical work experience. To qualify for an intermediate license, you may need to log supervision hours in which you review your cases with an experienced counselor.

CERTIFICATE PROGRAM OR ASSOCIATE DEGREE

1-2 years

One pathway to licensure is to complete a certificate program or associate degree in addiction counseling. It’s important to verify that any coursework you undertake for licensure purposes meets your state’s requirements.

Certificate and associate degree programs can be found at many two- and four-year colleges. The National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC) provides voluntary accreditation to certificate and associate degree programs that meet its quality standards.

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While many schools offer addiction counseling coursework online, proceed with caution. Some credentialing bodies limit the number of online credits that can be used toward licensure or certification.

At the certificate and associate degree levels, students can expect to take classes in:

Counseling skills

Learn theory and techniques for working with individuals, groups, and families with addiction issues.

Pharmacology

Learn how drugs and alcohol affect the body, mind, and relationships. Additionally learn about medications that can support recovery.

Multicultural competence

Develop sensitivity toward the needs and experiences of diverse patients in the contexts of addiction and recovery.

Law and ethics

Understand the laws and regulations governing counseling practice as well as issues around self-awareness, boundaries, and conflicts of interest.

Many certificate and associate degree programs have a fieldwork component that allows students to practice their counseling skills under supervision. Fieldwork hours can be applied toward the experience requirements for licensure and national certification.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

If your goal is to become an addictions counselor, a bachelor’s degree is a great place to start. Bachelor’s-trained counselors can provide individual and group counseling in agency settings. Many manage their own caseloads. With experience, they can provide clinical supervision and manage chemical dependency counseling programs.

To become licensed and certified at the bachelor’s level, you’ll need a degree in the behavioral health sciences. A few schools offer a specific major in addictions counseling. However, a four-year degree in social work, human services, mental health counseling, sociology, or psychology will usually qualify, especially if your coursework covers chemical dependency counseling.

Bachelor’s degree programs in behavioral health sciences can be found at many four-year colleges and universities. Look for a school that is regionally accredited and a curriculum that meets the requirements of your state’s regulatory board. Some addiction counseling bachelor’s programs pursue voluntary accreditation through NASAC.

Before enrolling in an online program, verify that it meets the contact requirements for licensure and national certification. Some credentialing bodies require a certain number of face-to-face classroom hours.

Bachelor’s-level students often take courses in:

Family counseling

Understand how addiction processes impact the family system. Explore counseling techniques and theories that can aid recovery.

Social research methods

Study the design, methods, ethics, and critique of social sciences research.

Psychopathology

Learn about the classification, development, progression, and treatment of substance abuse disorders.

State and local government

Examine the political institutions and processes governing public health (including substance abuse) at the local level.

Most bachelor’s-level programs also include supervised fieldwork experience in chemical dependency counseling.

MASTER'S DEGREE

2 years beyond the bachelor's level

To be licensed or certified at the highest levels with the broadest scope of practice, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in addictions counseling (or alternately, mental health counseling, social work, or psychology).

A master’s degree is required in most states for private practice. It may also help you compete for positions involving clinical supervision or agency management. Most master’s-trained chemical dependency counselors are also qualified to counsel non-addicted populations, which greatly expands their job prospects.

Master’s programs in chemical dependency counseling can be found at universities and four-year colleges. Most require a bachelor’s degree (in any major) for admission. Both NASAC and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) provide voluntary accreditation for graduate programs in chemical dependency counseling.

Counseling master’s programs blend coursework, practical experience, and clinical supervision.

Testing and assessment

Learn about the ethics, design, and application of psychological testing in counseling.

Diagnosis

Gain the skills needed to identify specific substance abuse issues and co-occurring mental health problems.

Case management

Design comprehensive, long-term treatment and recovery programs that address patients’ physical, mental health, social, and economic needs.

Addiction prevention and intervention

Practice developing substance abuse prevention programs for a variety of diverse populations.

Counseling master’s candidates also complete a practicum and internship in which they practice their skills under supervision.

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, runs a fellowship program for first-time master’s degree students interested in chemical dependency counseling with minority populations. Fellows receive tuition assistance, mentoring, educational opportunities, and free attendance at NAADAC’s annual conference.

Keys to Success as a Chemical Dependency Counselor

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Good with people

Because they spend most of the workday interacting with others, chemical dependency counselors should be “people persons” who have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Manages stress well

These counselors need patience and emotional stability to cope with frequent setbacks in the recovery process. Clients can be emotionally demanding, manipulative, verbally or physically abusive, mentally ill, or noncompliant. This can create a stressful and frustrating workplace beset with many setbacks and unique challenges.

Empathetic

A nonjudgmental attitude and a genuine, empathetic nature are needed to gain the trust of clients and form a strong therapeutic relationship.

Additional Credentials

The National Certification Commission for Addictions Professionals (NCC AP) offers a variety of voluntary national certifications for chemical dependency counselors. Candidates must meet education, continuing education, experience, and state licensure requirements and pass a test.

Available credentials include:

  • National Certified Addictions Counselor I (NCAC I) – for chemical dependency counselors without a bachelor’s degree
  • National Certified Addictions Counselor II (NCAC II) – for chemical dependency counselors with a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) – for experienced chemical dependency counselors with a master’s degree
  • Nicotine Dependence Specialist (NDS) – requires a bachelor’s degree and continuing education specific to smoking cessation
  • National Certified Adolescent Addictions Counselor (NCAAC) – requires a bachelor’s degree plus documented continuing education and work experience treating adolescents
  • National Peer Recovery Support Specialist (NCPRSS) – for laypeople in recovery who wish to assist others with chemical dependency issues
  • National Endorsed Student Assistance Professional – requires a bachelor’s degree plus documented education and experience related to treating students
  • National Clinical Supervision Endorsement (NCSE) – requires a bachelor’s degree and extensive documented clinical experience, including 200 hours of personal supervision while in turn supervising other counselors
  • National Endorsed Co-Occurring Disorders Professional (NECODP) – candidate must hold a bachelor’s degree and have supervised experience treating patients with both substance abuse and mental health disorders
Erika Price, PhD

Erika Price has a PhD in Social Psychology from Loyola University Chicago, and serves as an instructor at North Park University and The Chicago School for Professional Psychology. A recent Postdoctoral Research Associate, Erika has studied Open-Mindedness and Political Tolerance with support from the John Templeton Foundation.

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