Substance Abuse Counselor College Program Information

Prospective substance abuse counselors can pursue certificates, associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in the field. Read on for common educational prerequisites and courses in these programs, and discover popular career options as well as potential earnings for graduates.

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Essential Information

Nearly all undergraduate and graduate programs in substance abuse counseling explore the causes of and treatments for alcohol and drug addiction. Enrollment in undergraduate programs usually requires a high school diploma or its GED equivalent, along with college entrance or placement exams. Students need a relevant bachelor's degree to enroll in master's programs.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensure requirements for substance abuse counselors vary by state. For example, some counselors can practice after earning only a high school diploma and obtaining professional certification, while others may need a master's degree in order to set up a private practice.


Substance Abuse Counseling Education Certificate

A substance abuse counseling education certificate program is designed to prepare students to educate others about alcohol and drug abuse counseling programs and treatment. Students are trained to work with adults or children. Graduates may be employed in institutional corrections agencies, hospitals or homeless shelters.

Educational Prerequisites

In order to enroll in a substance abuse counseling education certificate program, students need either a high school diploma or a general education diploma (GED). Most colleges offering this program also expect the student to meet minimum college entrance examination requirements.

Program Coursework

Students in a substance abuse counseling education certificate program can expect to complete an internship in human services. They might also take the following courses:

  • Substance abuse counseling practices
  • Addiction and prevention treatment procedures
  • Case management for substance abuse counselors
  • Psychology of substance abuse counseling
  • Drug use and abuse

Popular Career Options

Students who are graduating from a substance abuse counseling education certificate program may be able to transfer their college credits to a higher degree program. Those immediately entering the workforce might pursue the following careers:

  • Juvenile group home substance abuse educator
  • Homeless shelter addiction educator
  • Entry-level human services worker

Associate's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Associate's degree programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students to enter human services careers and assist people who are coping with the effects of substance abuse. Upon graduating from such a program, students are often eligible to take licensure examinations for substance abuse counselors.

Educational Prerequisites

Prior to enrolling in an associate's degree program in substance abuse counseling, students must have earned a GED or high school diploma. Students must also meet minimum grade point average or college entrance examination requirements.

Program Coursework

Students can expect to take classes that cover interviewing and counseling groups, pharmacology principles of addiction, individual assessment and substance abuse case management. Other courses discuss:

  • Alcohol counseling
  • Drug addiction counseling
  • Family counseling for the substance abuse-affected
  • Abnormal psychological behavior
  • Substance abuse in youth culture

Popular Career Options

Graduates of substance abuse counseling associate's degree programs can work as group therapy facilitators. They can also work as substance abuse counselor assistants or coordinators.

Bachelor's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

A bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling program is designed to prepare the student to work in the addiction recovery services field. Students learn to assess, diagnose and treat patients struggling with addiction and substance abuse. Bachelor's degree programs in substance abuse counseling teach students to design and provide abuse recovery programs and supply individuals and their families with chemical dependency information. Students also learn to apply counseling techniques to individuals and groups in substance abuse situations.

Educational Prerequisites and Coursework

To enroll in a bachelor's degree program in substance abuse counseling, a student must have a high school diploma or GED, appropriate grade point average and minimum college entrance exam scores. A typical curriculum for a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling may include classes that cover:

  • Substance abuse fundamentals
  • Drugs' effects on the central nervous system
  • Substance abuse prevention
  • Family dynamics with regard to substance abuse
  • Personal assessment and evaluation in substance abuse counseling
  • Individual substance abuse counseling techniques
  • Group substance abuse counseling techniques

Master's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Some states, including Vermont and Massachusetts, require students to have a master's degree before they can become licensed substance abuse counselors and practice independently. Master's degree programs in substance abuse counseling emphasize leadership, public policy, management and human services.

Educational Prerequisites

Students desiring to enroll in a master's degree in substance abuse counseling program must have a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling or a similar human services field. Many colleges also require students to submit formal essays setting forth their intentions.

Program Coursework

Students undertaking a master's degree program in substance abuse counseling should expect to take the following classes that cover assessment strategies in substance abuse counseling:

  • Rehabilitation procedures in substance abuse counseling
  • Human growth and development in relation to substance abuse
  • Preventing substance abuse
  • Group theory in substance abuse counseling
  • Substance abuse counseling regarding families
  • Substance abuse counseling lifestyle and career assessment

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted a faster than average job growth outlook for substance abuse counselors between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). Additionally, in a May 2012 report, the BLS listed the median annual salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors as $38,520.

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