Addiction Counselor Jobs & Career Guide 2024

What is an addiction counselor?

An addiction counselor is a mental health professional who specializes in helping people overcome addictions to drugs, alcohol, or other substances. Addiction counselors work with individuals, families, and groups to identify the underlying causes of addiction and develop strategies to manage and overcome addictive behaviors.

What does an addiction counselor do?

Addiction counselors have several main responsibilities. One of their primary responsibilities is to conduct assessments of their clients to determine the extent and nature of their addiction. They may use interviews, questionnaires, or other assessment tools to gather information about a client’s substance use, mental health, and other factors that may be contributing to their addiction. Based on the results of these assessments, addiction counselors develop individualized treatment plans for their clients.

Another key responsibility of addiction counselors is to provide counseling and support to their clients throughout the recovery process. They may use a variety of counseling techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, or family therapy, to help clients overcome addiction and achieve their recovery goals.

Addiction counselors also provide education and resources to clients and their families about addiction, relapse prevention, and other related topics.

On the job, you can expect to:

  • Find options for addiction support groups and recommend them to their clientele.
  • If their client has a criminal record, they may be required to give updates on the individual’s progress in the program to a court.
  • Manage a group therapy session.
  • Give their clients healthy coping mechanisms to successfully traverse the difficulties of everyday life.
  • Evaluate their clients’ addiction problems and use that information to develop realistic goals and a treatment plan.
  • Get their clients back into the workforce.
  • Talk to their client’s support system (most likely family or friends) to give them guidance.
  • Create an aftercare plan, so their client is supported during their recovery.
“Being an addiction counselor can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s also challenging work. It requires a deep understanding of addiction and the ability to work with clients who may be resistant to change. It takes patience, empathy, and a willingness to meet clients where they are in their recovery journey. Addiction counseling can be emotionally taxing, but seeing clients successfully overcome addiction and achieve their recovery goals makes it all worth it.”
Dr. Sheila Vakharia, PhD, Deputy Director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Here is a typical daily schedule for an addiction counselor:

8:00 AM – 9:00 AM: Review and respond to any urgent emails or messages from clients or colleagues. Prepare for the day’s appointments.

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM: Conduct an initial assessment with a new client to determine the extent of their addiction and develop an individualized treatment plan.

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Facilitate a group counseling session for clients who are in the early stages of recovery.

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Meet with an individual client for a one-on-one counseling session to discuss their progress and challenges in overcoming addiction.

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Take a break for lunch and attend to any administrative tasks, such as documenting client progress notes or scheduling appointments.

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Conduct a family therapy session with a client and their loved ones to address any family dynamics that may be contributing to the client’s addiction.

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Meet with a client to provide education and support for relapse prevention strategies.

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Collaborate with other mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists or social workers, to coordinate care for a client with co-occurring mental health disorders.

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Facilitate a support group session for clients who are in the maintenance phase of recovery.

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM: Wrap up any administrative tasks and prepare for the next day’s appointments.

Where does an addiction counselor work?

Addiction counselors are employed in a variety of settings, including:

  1. Substance abuse treatment facilities: Addiction counselors may work in residential or outpatient treatment centers that specialize in helping individuals overcome addiction.
  2. Mental health clinics: Addiction counselors may work in mental health clinics that offer counseling and support services to individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders.
  3. Hospitals: Some hospitals may employ addiction counselors to provide counseling and support services to patients who are recovering from substance abuse or addiction.
  4. Educational institutions: Addiction counselors may work in universities or other educational institutions to provide counseling and support services to students who struggle with addiction.
  5. Government agencies: Addiction counselors may work for government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, providing counseling and support services to veterans who struggle with addiction.
  6. Private practice: Some addiction counselors may choose to work in private practice, offering counseling and support services to clients on a fee-for-service basis.

How to become an addiction counselor

It can take anywhere from 5-10 years to become an addiction counselor, depending on your educational path and the specific requirements in your state.

Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Addiction counselor positions require a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, counseling, or a related field. Some programs may offer a specialization in addiction counseling.

Obtain a master’s degree

Many addiction counseling positions require a master’s degree in counseling psychologycounseling, social work, or a related field. A master’s degree typically takes two to three years to complete and includes coursework in topics such as counseling theory, group counseling, family therapy, and substance abuse treatment.

Some master’s degree programs offer specializations in addiction counseling, which may include coursework in addiction-specific topics such as addiction theory, pharmacology, and relapse prevention. In addition to coursework, master’s degree programs typically include supervised clinical experience working with individuals with substance abuse or addiction issues.

Some states may require a master’s degree for licensure as an addiction counselor, while others may only require a bachelor’s degree. That being said, many organizations will (irrespective of state guidelines) likely favor candidates with a Master’s degree over applicants with a Bachelor’s degree.

Supervised experience

Many states require a certain number of supervised clinical hours working with individuals with substance abuse or addiction issues in order to become licensed as an addiction counselor. The amount of required clinical experience varies by state, but typically ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 hours.

Supervised clinical experience involves working under the guidance of a licensed and experienced addiction counselor or other mental health professional. The supervisor provides feedback, guidance, and support to help the trainee develop the skills and knowledge necessary to provide effective counseling and support to individuals with addiction.

During supervised clinical experience, trainees may work with clients one-on-one, facilitate group counseling sessions, conduct assessments, develop treatment plans, and provide education and support to clients and their families. The goal of supervised clinical experience is to provide trainees with hands-on experience working with clients and to ensure that they are prepared to provide effective counseling and support on their own.

Obtain certification

Certification is a voluntary process for addiction counselors, but many states and employers require or prefer that addiction counselors hold certification from a professional organization. Certification indicates that an addiction counselor has met certain education and training requirements and has demonstrated competency in the field of addiction counseling.

The main organization that offers certification for addiction counselors is the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). To become certified by NAADAC, addiction counselors must meet certain education and training requirements, including completion of a minimum of 270 hours of addiction-specific education, at least six hours of ethics training, and at least 300 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, candidates must pass a certification exam and adhere to a code of ethics.

Obtain licensure

Licensure is required in some states for addiction counselors to practice independently.

In addition to meeting the above educational and experience requirements, licensure also requires adherence to a code of ethics and ongoing continuing education to maintain the license.

The licensing exam typically covers topics related to addiction counseling, such as screening and assessment, treatment planning, pharmacology, and relapse prevention. Some states may also require an additional exam covering state-specific laws and regulations related to addiction counseling.

It’s important to research the specific licensing requirements in your state or country and choose a program that meets those requirements. Some states may have different requirements for different levels of licensure, such as a licensed addiction counselor (LAC) or licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a specialization in addiction counseling.

Addiction Counselor Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for addiction counselors (which fall under the substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors category) is $47,660.

Here are the top 5 states for earnings as an addiction counselor, ranked by mean annual wage:

  1. California: $55,840
  2. New Jersey: $55,340
  3. Alaska: $53,400
  4. New York: $53,290
  5. Rhode Island: $50,900

Here are some ways addiction counselors can improve their earning potential:

Obtain additional education or certification

Pursuing advanced education such as a Ph.D. can increase an addiction counselor’s earning potential. Similarly, obtaining specialized certification in areas such as trauma-informed care or co-occurring disorders can demonstrate expertise and may lead to higher-paying job opportunities.

Gain experience in a specialized area

Specializing in a particular area of addiction counseling such as working with adolescents or treating opioid addiction can demonstrate expertise and lead to higher-paying job opportunities. Gaining experience in a specialized area can also increase an addiction counselor’s marketability to potential employers.

Seek employment in a high-demand area

Addiction counselors can improve their earning potential by seeking employment in areas where there is a high demand for their services. This could include working in areas with high rates of substance abuse or in areas with a shortage of addiction counselors. Additionally, working in higher-paying industries such as healthcare or government can increase an addiction counselor’s earning potential.

Get more salary insights in our addiction counselor salary guide

Latest Addiction Counselor Job Listings

PositionCompanyLocationPosted
Human Services/Counseling/Psychology Faculty, Vail Valley at EdwardsColorado Mountain College Colorado US05/20/2024
About Colorado Mountain College Imagine working at a college that welcomes everyone – students, faculty, staff, and community members – regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs, or traditions. An institution that is also integrally connected to, appreciated by, and supported by those same communities. Envision yourself at a dynamic, innovative, forward-leaning college that has a highly entrepreneurial spirit and deep commitment to every learner – from first-generation … More
Field-based Behavioral Health Care Manager – Cincinnati, OH – Hybrid/RemoteUnitedHealth Group Cincinnati, Ohio US05/19/2024
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Mental Health Associate Associate – 4397ColumbiaCare Services Junction City, Oregon US05/19/2024
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Behavioral Health Residential Assistant Administrator – 4395ColumbiaCare Services Junction City, Oregon US05/19/2024
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Medical Behavioral Integration – MBI – Nurse Care ManagerUnitedHealth Group Overland Park, Kansas US05/18/2024
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Inpatient PsychologistWestern State Hospital Lakewood, Washington US05/17/2024
Provide psychological services and behavioral programming on a civil commitment ward for adult patients.Develop specific behavioral treatment programs, consulting with staff to ensure consistent approaches to patient care.Provide clinical oversight of the ward program, individual and group therapy, treatment planning, assessment, and training of staff.Provide psychological and risk evaluations.Attend and participate in the treatment team, psychology department, and other collaborative meetings.Participate … More
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Medical Behavioral Integration – MBI – Nurse Care ManagerUnitedHealth Group Salt Lake City, Utah US05/16/2024
$5,000 Sign-on Bonus for External Candidates For those who want to invent the future of health care, here’s your opportunity. We’re going beyond basic care to health programs integrated across the entire continuum of care. Join us to start Caring. Connecting. Growing together.The Medical Behavioral Integration Nurse is a specialized component of the Optum Care Management Team. This position integrates a collaborative process which plans, implements, … More
Position
About Colorado Mountain College Imagine working at a college that welcomes everyone – students, faculty, staff, and community members – regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs, or traditions. An institution that is also integrally connected to, appreciated by, and supported by those same communities. Envision yourself at a dynamic, innovative, forward-leaning college that has a highly entrepreneurial spirit and deep commitment to every learner – from first-generation … More
Company
Colorado Mountain College
Location
Colorado US
Posted
05/20/2024
Position
Optum Home & Community Care, part of the UnitedHealth Group family of businesses, is creating something new in health care. We are uniting industry-leading solutions to build an integrated care model that holistically addresses an individual’s physical, mental and social needs – helping patients access and navigate care anytime and anywhere. As a team member of our Optum At Home product, together with an interdisciplinary care team we help patients navigate the health care system, and … More
Company
UnitedHealth Group
Location
Cincinnati, Ohio US
Posted
05/19/2024
Company
ColumbiaCare Services
Location
Junction City, Oregon US
Posted
05/19/2024
Position
APPLY TODAY AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE MENTAL HEALTH FIELDWhat We OfferEnjoy our many benefits and incentives including:Affordable … More
Company
ColumbiaCare Services
Location
Junction City, Oregon US
Posted
05/19/2024
Position
For those who want to invent the future of health care, here’s your opportunity. We’re going beyond basic care to health programs integrated across the entire continuum of care. Join us to start Caring. Connecting. Growing together. The Medical Behavioral Integration Nurse is a specialized component of the Optum Care Management Team. This position integrates a collaborative process which plans, implements, coordinates, monitors and evaluates options and services to … More
Company
UnitedHealth Group
Location
Overland Park, Kansas US
Posted
05/18/2024
Position
Provide psychological services and behavioral programming on a civil commitment ward for adult patients.Develop specific behavioral treatment programs, consulting with staff to ensure consistent approaches to patient care.Provide clinical oversight of the ward program, individual and group therapy, treatment planning, assessment, and training of staff.Provide psychological and risk evaluations.Attend and participate in the treatment team, psychology department, and other collaborative meetings.Participate … More
Company
Western State Hospital
Location
Lakewood, Washington US
Posted
05/17/2024
Position
Description:Position DescriptionPurpose Statement:Northstar Behavioral Health Intensive Residential Services IRTS is a team of professionals that specialize in co-occurring treatment through a multi-faceted programming structure for those battling mental health and substance use disorders.Requirements:Job Duties and Responsibilities: (Essential Functions)Supervise residents to assure their health and safety; plus:Respond … More
Company
Northstar Behavioral Health Network
Location
Fergus Falls, Minnesota US
Posted
05/17/2024
Position
$5,000 Sign-on Bonus for External Candidates For those who want to invent the future of health care, here’s your opportunity. We’re going beyond basic care to health programs integrated across the entire continuum of care. Join us to start Caring. Connecting. Growing together.The Medical Behavioral Integration Nurse is a specialized component of the Optum Care Management Team. This position integrates a collaborative process which plans, implements, … More
Company
UnitedHealth Group
Location
Salt Lake City, Utah US
Posted
05/16/2024