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What does a Substance Abuse Counselor do?

Substance abuse counselors (also known as chemical dependency and addictions counselors) work with clients battling alcohol, tobacco and drug addictions, and also with gambling addictions and eating disorders. They work with individuals battling addictions, and with those people affected by an individual's addiction.

Many substance abuse counselors work with families who are affected by the individual's behavior, and others work in group counseling programs. In addition to one-on-one or family counseling, substance abuse counselors can work in educational, public health industries.

Some substance abuse counselors work in private practice; others work in community health organizations, day treatment programs and hospitals. Substance abuse counselors are often social, like to communicate, frequently, use artistic means to communicate, and often tend to be investigative, working with ideas and problem solving.

What are the major job requirements for substance abuse counselors?

Job requirements include computer and technology skills, often including the ability to work with medical and presentations software.

Just as important as technical abilities are the skills, knowledge and abilities counselors bring to the job, according to O*NET Online. Substance abuse counselors need knowledge of methods of counseling, an understanding of psychology and human behavior, customer service, administration and management skills. Other valuable skills include active listening, critical thinking, verbal and written communications skills, good judgment and decision making skills. Stress tolerance, self control and dependability are also important.

What are the major educational requirements?

Educational requirements for substance abuse counselors vary by state and specialty, but a master's degree is generally required in order to be licensed to work in any state. Many voluntary certification organizations can help you figure out the requirements where you live and want to work.

Educational programs in colleges and universities may be within the school's department of education or psychology, social or human services. Coursework includes areas such as human growth and development, social groups, counseling techniques and professional ethics.

Every state requires counselors to be licensed, though requirements for licensure vary. Also, some states require, and some counselors opt for, certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Job outlook and earning potentials for substance abuse counselors

Some of the industries with the highest levels of employment for this occupation, according to the BLS, include:
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • Individual and family services
  • Local government
  • General medical and surgical hospitals
Top paying states for substance abuse counselors, according to BLS, are:
  • New Jersey
  • Hawaii
  • Wisconsin
  • Maine
  • Alaska
Job opportunities for counselors remain favorable, according to the BLS.

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