Addiction counselors have the opportunity to have careers in a variety of settings. The opportunity to explore multiple career options and to have advancement opportunities are reasons that some people choose to seek a degree in addiction counseling. What are the job duties and responsibilities of an addiction counselor?
Do they always work in a social service agency setting, or do they work in other settings? Are there opportunities for advanced education and advancement in job opportunities as an addiction counselor? How do I become an addiction counselor?
What types of jobs are there for addiction counselors, and where do they work? These are some common questions that people who consider a career in addiction counseling often want to know before they start working in the field. Understanding the approaches to addiction counseling, the need for addiction counselors in a variety of settings, and the career options often help individuals to decide whether they want to have an addiction counseling career or if they want to make a career change to work in the field.
What is Addiction Counseling?
Are you surprised to know that addiction counseling does not solely involve counseling people who have an addiction to drugs? Addiction comes in many forms. Counseling clients for alcohol addiction and addiction to other drugs is the first thing that most people are likely to think of when they hear the career title of addiction counselor.
Some other addictions include addiction to food, addiction to sex or pornography, addiction to gambling, addiction to shopping and exercise. Did you know that some people have a social media addiction or an addiction to their cell phone?
Professional addiction counselors work with clients with these types of addictions. They help their clients or patients understand that addiction is not a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower to stop using drugs, or to stop the other forms of addiction. Addiction is a disease. It often runs in families.
Addiction counselors help their clients or patients learn how to break the cycle of addiction, and learn how to progress on their path to recovery.
Addiction counseling is an evidence-based treatment. It helps clients to understand the underlying causes of their addiction. It helps them learn to identify and change negative feelings, negative thoughts and behaviors.
Clients or patients receiving addiction counseling learn how to start on the road to recovery and gain the tools to help them avoid relapse.
What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?
Addiction counselors help people to understand what caused their addiction to drugs, food, gambling, or other addictions. Clients or patients become aware of their negative behavior patterns. They learn to identify triggers, and learn new, healthy coping skills.
The addiction counselor provides support, ongoing counseling and treatment for people with addiction or co-occurring mental health disorders. Many people who have addiction issues also have mental health issues. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that an estimated 17 million adults aged 18 and over had a co-occurring major depressive episode (MDE) and a substance use disorder (SUD) the previous year.
The survey also revealed statistics for adolescents with addiction issues, including those with co-occurring disorders. There were an estimated 644,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 with a co-occurring major depressive episode and substance use disorder. Some addiction counselors work with adult clients, while others provide treatment for adolescents.
They provide case management services and provide individual or group counseling services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists several more duties of addiction counselors, which include:
- Performing an assessment or evaluation of clients’ mental health, physical health, addiction and problematic behaviors along with each client’s readiness for treatment
- Developing, recommending and reviewing treatment goals and plans with clients
- Working with and teaching clients’ family members about addiction or behavior disorders and helping families develop coping strategies for those problems
- Conducting outreach programs to help people to identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behaviors and how to avoid those behaviors
- Referring clients to other resources and services
- Examples of referrals that counselors make include job placement services, to medical providers or support groups.
Types of Jobs for Addiction Counselors
The first job that likely comes to mind when you think about addiction counseling is alcohol addiction counselor or drug addiction counselor. Many people still do not realize that alcohol is a drug. Alcohol or marijuana are often the gateway to using other drugs.
The other drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or prescription opioids. Some addiction counselors provide counseling services to people who have an addiction to one type of drug, while others provide counseling and treatment to clients or patients with addition to a variety of addiction issues.
1. Outpatient substance abuse treatment counselor
The outpatient substance abuse counselor provides services to clients in an outpatient treatment setting. Outpatient addiction counseling involves many techniques and services that are the same or similar to inpatient addiction counseling. The counselor uses evidence-based treatment to provide individual or group counseling for clients who have addiction issues.
The setting varies, with some treatment provided at addiction treatment centers. Some other treatment settings include government agencies, private practice settings, halfway houses, mental health agencies or social service agencies.
2. Inpatient Addiction Counselor
Addiction counselors often work in an inpatient treatment setting. Examples of the settings include inpatient addiction treatment centers, hospitals, juvenile detention facilities, adult jails, prisons or other criminal justice settings. The work that addiction counselors do may vary according to the setting.
Counselors work a variety of hours. They are often on-call 24-hours or work weekends and holidays. They provide counseling for crisis situations.
Providing individual counseling may not be possible in a jail or prison. Making referrals to outside agencies is not possible when a person is a patient at a mental health facility. The day-to-day work varies when you are an addiction counselor.
Every duty is not an exciting task. Inpatient addiction counselors keep records, document treatment progress, and refine treatment goals during treatment.
3. Mental Health Counselor
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) indicates that an estimated 50 percent of people who experience a substance use disorder during their lifetime also experience a co-occurring mental health disorder. Common co-occurring mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Addiction counselors who work in a mental health setting may work at an outpatient facility, or at an inpatient mental health treatment center.
They work at a correctional facility, juvenile mental health treatment facility, hospital or for the court system. They provide evaluations and assessments. Mental health counselors provide ongoing counseling and treatment, set goals with clients and provide documentation of all treatment and counseling sessions.
The counselor may provide evidence of treatment or progress to hospital or treatment facility staff or to the courts.
4. Gambling Addiction Counselor
Gambling addiction treatment is a career field chosen by some addiction counselors. The training and certification for gambling addiction counselors often goes beyond receiving a college degree. Some treatment agencies require additional certification.
Clients learn to recognize the underlying reasons for their gambling issues. They discover their triggers and learn how to avoid them. They discover new coping skills and how to avoid relapse.
Addiction counselors facilitate group and individual therapy. Addiction counselors provide support for clients during their recovery.
5. Private Practice Addiction Counselor
Addiction counselors sometimes work in private practice. Working in private practice likely allows for a smaller workload. Counselors who do not want to work in traditional addiction counseling settings may choose to work in private practice.
Clients who get treatment from an addiction counselor with their own practice likely feel that they have more privacy. People often do not want their employer or their family to know about their addiction issues. The services and treatment provided by private practice counselors are the same or similar to those employed in other settings.
The addiction counselor provides referrals to agencies and other resources when individual clients need the referrals.
6. Detox Center Specialist
One myth that prevails among many people who have an addiction is that detox is treatment. Detox is a process that usually lasts for five to seven days. Detox rids the body of the drugs.
Counselors and other professionals provide support for clients as they undergo detox and withdrawal. They help the client prepare to enter an addiction treatment program. Addiction counselors who work in detox centers often make referrals to treatment programs and facilitate the person going directly from detox into a treatment facility.
7. Correctional Facility Addiction Counselor
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released the Criminal Justice Drug facts revised report in June 2020. The report reveals that approximately 65 percent of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons have a substance abuse disorder (SUD). Another 20 percent of the prison population were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time that they committed their crime.
NIDA views receiving comprehensive treatment while incarcerated as “critical” to reducing crime and substance abuse when an offender returns to the community. Addiction counselors provide a variety of services when they work in an adult or juvenile correctional facility. Examples of services include performing assessments and evaluations, group counseling, facilitating support groups and keeping records of individual inmate-clients.
Preparing people in correctional facilities to rejoin society is often a daunting task that requires the services of a counselor to help inmate-clients rejoin society. The counselor may consult with outside agencies or other resources to help clients after their release from the correctional institution.
Addiction Counselor Education Requirements
Educational requirements for addiction counselors vary by state. The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board (OCDP) issues four types of certifications and licenses. They include the Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant (CDCA), Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor II and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor III, and Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor.
The Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor requires a minimum of a master’s degree, while the other counselor requirements require a minimum of high school diploma for the CDCA to a bachelor’s degree for the Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor III. A person who pursues licensure as a professional counselor completes a graduate degree in counseling and receives a passing score on the required examination. The candidate completes an internship and other requirements that their employer requires of counselors.
Compare the Ohio educational requirements to the requirements in California. The state requires completion of an Associate’s Degree in Behavioral Science or Allied Mental Health Profession must include 315 hours of required SUD education in AA/AS degree for a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Level I. Advanced counselor levels require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral science field or mental health.
Counselors pass the required exam. Employers may have additional requirements. It is important to note that addiction counselors need to check the educational requirements for the state that they wish to work in, not the state where they currently reside.
If you attend school outside of the area where you plan to practice, make sure that the state accepts the degree from the college you attend for the addiction counseling program.
Job Outlook for Addiction Counselors
There is a bright outlook for addiction counselors across the U.S. The efforts to fight opioid addiction, addiction to other drugs, addiction to food, gambling and other addictions mean that there is an increasing need for addiction counselors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the job outlook is “much faster than average, compared to other career fields.
There is an expected increase of more than 75,000 jobs in substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors between 2020 and 2030. The BLS indicates that a portion of the increase in these areas is partly due to the increase in demand because of the toll of COVID-19 on the mental health of many people.
Addiction Counselor Salary
The salary of addiction counselors sometimes varies based on where they work during their career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2021 median pay for addiction, behavioral and mental health counselors as $48,520 per year, or $23.33 per hour. The site salary.com lists the 50 percent median salary, as reported by human resources data, is $56,400 per year.
Some addiction counselors make more than $69,000 per year. The salary for addiction counselors often varies by state. The top paying areas for addiction counselors, counselors for behavioral health and mental health include Utah, Alaska, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, and the State of New Jersey.
The lowest paying states include mostly states in the Southeast United States, Montana and South Dakota. The salary that you receive as an addiction counselor sometimes depends on the specific region where you work and not the state. Some top-paying metropolitan areas with the highest pay for addiction counselors include the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California metropolitan area and the Carson City, Nevada area.
Counselors in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara had a mean 2021 pay of $74,560, while the median pay for counselors in Carson City was $73,200. Some other top-paying areas include Reno, Nevada, where addiction counselors, behavioral disorder counselors and mental health counselors had a mean 2021 pay of $71,690 and St. George, Utah, where counselors’ mean salary for 2021 was $70,630. Northern Pennsylvania, Western Washington State, Northwest Minnesota, and Eastern Kentucky are the non-metropolitan areas that have the highest employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.