A substance abuse counselor helps individuals throughout the recovery process. Counselors work with individuals and families prior to admission to a treatment facility, during rehab, and as part of a comprehensive aftercare program to help increase recovery success.

What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor is an individual who is trained to work with those struggling with addiction. Some counselors are volunteers in local clinics or counseling programs; others are degreed and accredited therapists who work with individuals in facilities or one-on-one therapy sessions.

Who Becomes a Substance Abuse Counselor?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for substance abuse counselors across the country is around $38,000 a year. Since many counselors put in a high number of hours, individuals who become substance abuse counselors don’t do it to get rich. Most counselors come to the occupation out of a desire to help others. Many individuals who become counselors have struggled with addiction in the past and are in long-term recovery. They understand how addiction can impact someone’s life, and they know that caring, professional care during recovery can make a big difference to patients.

Education and Certification

Education requirements vary widely for substance abuse counselors. Some states and facilities offer positions to individuals with a high school degree or equivalent, but these individuals usually provide minor counseling or education services under the supervision of a certified counselor. Certified counselors usually have a two-year associates or four-year bachelor’s degree or higher, and some positions—particularly those that oversee other therapists—require a masters or doctorate degree.

Most facilities require substance abuse counselors to maintain certification. Certifications are usually handled at the state level and require continuing education each year. Some types of certifications include Substance Abuse Counselor, Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor, or Board Certified Substance Abuse Counselor. The difference in certification governs how and where a counselor can treat patients. Clinical counselors may work in facilities that treat substance abuse in conjunction with mental health disorders, for example. Board certified counselors can set up their own practices in many states, seeing patients for individual sessions. Certification may also determine whether a therapist can bill patient mental health insurance policies for payment.

Types of Therapists to Expect in Rehab

While the crux of most substance abuse rehab programs is dealing with substance abuse, successful programs tend to treat the entire mind and body. In addition to substance abuse counselors, facilities may include mental health counselors or social workers, recreational therapists, family therapists, nutritional therapists, and clinical staff such as doctors and nurses. In some cases, workers wear multiple hats: the substance abuse counselor providing one-on-one sessions could also lead group or family therapy sessions, for example.

Seeking assistance from highly trained professionals in the substance abuse arena is one of the best ways someone can increase the likelihood of a successful rehab. Not only can professionals treat immediate concerns, but they can also provide ongoing support during what will be a long recovery process.


  1. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-and-behavioral-disorder-counselors.htm