Substance Abuse Counselor Job Description

Job Description:

Substance Abuse Counselors are mental health counselors that help people solve and cope with various addiction problems in their daily lives such as: alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and other substance abuse problems.

Their job description: Substance Abuse Counselors not only help people improve the lives of people addicted to substances by assisting them in a variety of ways to work through their addictions. They provide counseling and training on coping and solving interpersonal issues, family challenges, financial problems, and substance abuse problems. Additionally, they deal with issues that can make abuse more prevalent in the lives of their clients.

Substance Abuse Counselors can be both licensed and unlicensed. Many of them specialize in working in a particular area such as mental health offices and hospitals, along with schools, churches and private practice facilities.

There are various types of Substance Abuse Counselors that help clients and families. The child, family and school substance abuse counselors provide an assortment of services and assistance for children and families. They may be involved in not only helping the substance abuser, but assisting with other needs such as: finding daycare, referral to specialized programs, assisting with helping clients fill out paper work, or may even provide counseling services for families and children. Furthermore, they may also work for local and state departments such as Child Protective Services.

Medical and Public Health Substance Abuse Counselors provide guidance to clients that suffer from drug addiction, alcoholism and other behavior programs.  This guidance is just one way of providing treatment and support to help the client recover and modify addiction problems.  From individual to group counseling and therapy sessions, substance abuse counselors are important to the recovery process.


Click here to see the salary for a Substance Abuse Counselor.

Working Environment

Social workers work indoors in offices and other indoor settings. The physical environment is comfortable with no significant environmental hazards. The work load and the stress of working with people in distress can be emotionally and psychologically demanding. The average work week is 40 hours with a Monday through Friday work schedule being typical. Some evening and week end work may be required. In some settings social workers are on call for crisis management 24 hours a day.

Training and Qualifications - what you have to do to be a Substance Abuse Counselor

More often than not, most Substance Abuse Counselors have a bachelor's or master’s degree in counseling.  However, some Substance Abuse Counselors only have a high school degree, but have received on the job training and furthered their education. Like other professions, the training and qualifications of a Substance Abuse Counselor depends on the type of setting, state regulations and responsibilities that are required. All fifty states and the territories in the United States have some licensing requirements for substance abuse counselors.

Licensing and Credentialing

Substance abuse counselors that are in private practice must be licensed.  Although requirements are different for each state, all states require a master’s degree and over 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In all 50 states and the U.S. Territories substance abuse counselors are regulated. The usual method to be credentialed is:

1.   Have a Masters in Counseling from an accredited school

2.    2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience 

3.    Pass a national exam

4.    Apply for licensure in the state where you wish to practice

Important Points

Not all Substance Abuse Counselors have to be licensed. This applies to only those in private practice, but the regulations vary from state to state.

Career Progression

Substance Abuse Counselors can progress in their field.  This is dependent on education, training and leadership skills. There is the opportunity to open a private practice in counseling. This would give the counselor the opportunity to become a small business owner. Opportunity to become a department manager or to advance to a clinical manager also exists.

Resources for Substance Abuse Counselors Job Description:

Substance Abuse CounselorsBureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition.

National Board for Certified Counselors