Substance Abuse Counselors

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with clients both one-on-one and in group counseling sessions.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with clients both one-on-one and in group counseling sessions.

“Hi, my name is John, and I’m an…” Most of us have an idea of what rehab counseling looks like. We picture a group of mopey adults, sitting in a circle, talking about their struggles with addiction. Some group therapy sessions may look like this. Others may look more like friends hanging out at a coffee shop, or in someone’s living room. Some sessions might be more private, with only two or three individuals present. In all of these situations, there is a trained substance abuse counselor available to listen, guide, and mediate the recovering addicts. While the job can be emotionally taxing, counselors are rewarded with seeing participants recover and knowing that they are making a difference in people’s lives.


Fast Facts

Minimum Education Required: High School Diploma

Top 3 Skills: Patience, Calm Nature, Emotional Support

Average Starting Salary: $25,000/year


Job Description

Substance abuse counselors help individuals recovering from substance abuse and/or addiction. They may work with teenagers, young adults, or older adults. They may work primarily with lower or higher income addicts. They may work for a private organization or a public one. Wherever they work, they are dedicated to helping recovering addicts stay sober and stay positive.

Counselors that work for hospitals may be assigned in-patients to talk to during their hospital stay. Often these patients have been admitted due to overdose or other addiction-related issues. The counselor talks to them about their situation, how they got there, and where they see themselves in the future. Some patients realize their problems, and just need a friendly ear. Other patients are more resistant to help, which can be difficult for the counselor.

Some substance abuse counselors work on-call, during nights or weekends when emergencies arise. Other counselors work on a schedule, with groups or individuals meeting at specific times.



While there are jobs available for counselors with only a high school diploma, those with more advanced degrees have more options for work. Counselors who wish to work one-on-one with patients, for example, are required to have a masters degree in most states. Check your state’s licensing board to find out what types of counseling require what degree, and/or licensing.



See above.


Job Outlook: Good

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 21% increase in Substance Abuse Counseling positions between 2010 and 2020. The median income for workers in 2010 was approx. $40,000 a year, with 10% of counselors earning $60,000 or more.

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