3 Ways to Become a Drug Counselor

More professionals today are deciding to work as drug and substance abuse counselors, which are trained mental health professionals who help their patients to deal with various drug addictions. There are ample job prospects in this field, making it a very attractive long term occupation.

The employment outlook for drug and substance abuse counselors is very bright, with 22% growth in jobs by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much faster than average, and is being driven by more drug counseling services being covered by health insurance policies.

The number of people who have health insurance is expected to continue to increase due to federal health insurance changes. The new law requires insurance companies to cover drug treatment programs. That is why more mental health centers, hospitals and various other treatment and counseling centers are hiring more drug counselors today.

If you are interested in being a drug or substance abuse counselor, there are several ways that you can become one. The requirements for working in the profession can depend upon the state or the employer.

#1 Receive On the Job Training

There are some entry level drug counselor jobs available to those with a high school diploma and on the job training. These entry level drug counselors work with close supervision by certified and licensed substance abuse counselors with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

However, in recent years, behavioral health has been incorporated more into the substance abuse field, and this is leading to more educational requirements for these positions.

Drug counselors today need to have knowledge and experience not only about drug abuse disorders, but also how strongly they correlate with mental disorders. So, you can possibly enter the drug counseling field with only a high school education, but long term professionals in the field should expect to need additional education to move up the ladder.

#2 Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Some entry to mid level job opportunities in drug counseling are available for those who earn a bachelor’s degree in the field. For example, Grand Canyon University offers a Bachelor of Science in Counseling with an Emphasis on Addiction, Chemical Dependency and Substance Abuse.

This program can be taken entirely online and will provide you with the skills and experience to help both individuals and families to deal with drug abuse and dependency. When you are enrolled in this program, you will focus on drug use disorders; addiction and treatment; and how children, adults and adolescents deal with these problems. Also explored are the family dynamics driving drug addiction and the methods that can stop destructive behaviors and prevent relapses.

This bachelor’s program will help you to develop a strong foundation of drug counseling skills that will be effective in many work environments. The coursework covers psychological theories, and also techniques to gather and assess behavioral data and to implement solutions to help drug addiction victims and their families.

Fieldwork is part of of this program in drug addiction counseling so you can put classroom theories into practice by working with those who have been most affected by drug abuse.

Subjects covered include:

  • Foundations of addictive disorders
  • Crisis intervention skills and counseling theories for substance abuse
  • Case management and relapse prevention
  • Family dynamics and how they contribute to recovery
  • Substance abuse code of ethics
  • Advanced counseling theories as they relate to substance abuse
  • Spirituality and addiction

Specific classes are:

  • Violence,Child,Elder Abuse-Fam w/Addiction & Substance Use Disorders
  • Advanced Counseling Theories-Addiction & Substance Use Disorder Counselors
  • Psychopath & Adv.Treatment-Spec Pop w/Addiction & Substance Use Disorders
  • Spirituality and Addiction
  • Prof, Legal,& Ethical Issues-Addiction & Substance Use Disorder Counselors
  • Treatment of Addiction & Substance Use Disorders – Children and Adolescents
  • Process Addictions
  • Lifespan Development

Completing this addiction counseling degree may qualify you to meet the standards of state and national certification for treatment counselors and professional prevention specialists. You should verify in your state that earning a bachelor’s degree in this field will allow you to become certified.

Addiction counselors with a bachelor’s degree generally may work in supervised clinical environments, private practices, rehab centers and mental health facilities.

#3 Earn a Master’s Degree

If you want to work as a drug counselor in a private practice, you must have a master’s degree. Workers with a master’s degree can offer more advanced services, such as one on one counseling. Master’s degree holders also require less oversight from other professionals.

A master’s degree in addiction studies will teach you to better identify situations and behaviors and to apply psychological counseling theories, approaches and models to groups and individuals that are facing addiction problems.

You also will learn to apply skills, knowledge and best practices for treating addictions, and will establish proper assessments to evaluate drug counseling clients.

The fieldwork portion of these programs will provide you with professional, on site experience under the supervision of the drug counseling site supervisor and a faculty instructor. As you are completing your drug counseling fieldwork, you will be evaluated regularly and will be given adequate learning experiences so that core drug counseling skills and theories are understood.

An addiction studies master’s degree will prepare you for higher level roles in treatment and prevention programs, and also clinical settings where drug addiction professionals work as part of a larger healthcare team.

Some of the common jobs you can obtain with this master’s degree are addictions counselor, case manager, clinical counselor, correctional substance abuse counselor, and chemical dependency supervisor.

To become a licensed substance abuse or drug abuse counselor in private practice, you have to earn your license. The licensing requirements are different by state. But all states do require a graduate degree in the field and a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised field experience.

Also, you must pass an exam in your state and complete continuing education annually. You should contact the National Board of Certified Counselors for specific certification information for your state.


The drug counselor profession is seeing much more demand than a few decades ago. Another major reason this is happening is that more minor drug offenders are being given drug counseling instead of long jail sentences. You can expect to see high demand in the future in the drug counselor field, especially for those who earn an advanced education.