Substance abuse is on the rise in the United States. Approximately 13.2% of people age 12 or older have used drugs or abused a substance in the last month. This comes out to nearly 1 in 8 people abusing substances on a monthly basis.

And 23.1 million people in the United States alone have sought treatment for their substance abuse problems.

In rural areas, we’re finding more and more kids and teens addicted to what is considered “harder drugs.” Heroine’s falling costs are causing more people to overdose from the drug and become a statistic.

The demand for substance abuse counselors is also on the rise as a result.

What is the Job of a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance Abuse Counselor

The job of a counselor is to provide treatment and support to people that are considered substance abusers. The substance can be many things, but there are three main substances that are abused:

  • Medications
  • Alcohol
  • Illicit drugs

And we’re finding that younger generations are becoming addicted to prescription medications at a younger age than ever before. The job of a substance abuse counselor is expected to grow in demand by 22% by 2024.

The immense growth rate in demand indicates the expectation that substance abuse will continue to rise.


A counselor has many “jobs” and responsibilities. When working as a substance abuse counselor, you’ll be expected to:

  • Help individuals get their lives back on track
  • Help groups through substance abuse group activities
  • Provide guidance to help mend relationships broken from destructive behavior
  • Provide help in times of need when a person is ready to abuse again
  • Provide guidance for families and sufferers to find treatment options that will work best

And counselors will often conduct outreach programs. These programs aim to help educate the community on the effects of addiction and to encourage people to maintain a substance-free lifestyle.

Oftentimes, counselors will find their clients through outreach due to many abusers feeling afraid and abandoned when they’re abusing.

This is a taxing job emotionally. Counselors will need to be the shoulder for a person that may be on a self-destructive path that is fueled by substance abuse.

What is Substance Abuse Disorder?

One phrase that will keep popping up when looking up information on substance abuse counseling is “substance abuse disorder.” Abuse is a disorder, and this term refers to a condition of a person that leads them to abuse one or more substances.

The disorder will result in significant impairment and/or distress of the abuser.

A person may partake in drugs and alcohol, for example, which would allow him or her to fit into this classification. This term is also used interchangeably with drug abuse disorder.


Average Substance / Addiction Counselor Salary


The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides in-depth salary statistics for this career path, and there is a growing need for competent, certified counselors in virtually every city in the country. A quick look shows the following figures as of May 2015:

  • 87,000 people employed in the field
  • $20.64 mean hourly wage
  • $42,920 mean annual wage

And this is just the mean salary information. A better look at the salary you can expect when entering the field and progressing through your career is as follows:

  • Bottom 10%: A low-end figure of $12.43 per hour and an annual wage of $25,860.
  • Bottom 25%: An hourly wage of $15.31 with an annual wage of $31,850.
  • Median (50%): The median is what 50% of workers earn in the field, and comes out to $19.22 per hour, or $39,980 per year.
  • Top 75%: Experienced professionals will fall in the top 75% percentile and earn $24.59 per hour, or $51,140 annually.
  • Top 90%: The top 90% are experts in the field with substantial experience. These professionals often have 10 – 15 years of experience at a minimum and earn $30.30 per hour, or $63,030 annually.

Most people will fall within the bottom 25% of earners when they enter the field without any prior experience.

If you dig a little deeper into statistics from, you’ll find that the salary range is from $26,848 – $48,930. This gives a general outline of salaries, and it also shows that some counselors receive bonuses of up to $1,100. Profit sharing is also available in some cases.

Top Employers

When entering the field, you’ll find that the top employer in terms of salary is the local government. The local government employees 6,000 people, and offers a slew of benefits that make it a top choice for substance abuse counselors.

The top employers are:

  1. Outpatient Care Centers (20,870)
  2. Residential Intellectual and Development (18,430)
  3. Individual and Family Services (12,230)
  4. Local Government (6,000)
  5. Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals (5,510)

The top paying states in the industry that all pay above $50,000 as the annual mean wage include:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. New Mexico
  3. North Dakota
  4. District of Columbia
  5. New Jersey

Top counselors may also find themselves in research facilities where they can earn substantially more money than their peers.

Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor

adult substance abuse centers

Substance abuse counselor jobs are in high demand, and getting into the field will provide you with a career in one of the fastest growing fields in the country. if you want to become a counselor, there are requirements that will need to be met before entering into the field:

There are several educational paths that will allow you to become a counselor:


A college education will be one of the most expensive avenues, and it is also not for everyone. You will need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in most cases. The most common degree that is seen in the field is:

  • Alcohol & Drug Abuse Studies
  • Addictions Counseling

There is the possibility of delving deeper into the field, too. A Master’s Degree or Doctorate is an option, too. But these degrees can take 6 – 8 years to obtain for a person that attends college or university full time.


There isn’t an academic threshold to enter this occupation. And as a result, certification may suffice for employment. In fact, many states require some form of certification for an individual to enter the field.

You’ll be working hands-on with clients, and it’s important that counselors are well-versed in the field.

Educational demands have widened in the field over the past 15 years. A person must now have knowledge about various forms of substance abuse, and this is what leads many people to higher education.

Certification is a fast-track into the field.

The right program will arm you with the information you need to find a job and become employed in a career that is growing rapidly year after year.

Substance abuse certification requirements will vary from one certification in the field to another. Some certifications will require a person to have a Bachelor’s degree in a related field before they can become certified.

Job Satisfaction

Working well into your 60s is a reality in today’s world, and the possibility of working until 70 is becoming a reality for many Americans. A few things to know about this field include:

  • Stress levels can be high due to the nature of the work involved
  • Working schedules and flexibility is high, allowing for a good work-life balance
  • Upward mobility is limited in the field

From the moment of a substance abuse evaluation to the time a person gets treatment and is on the track to sobriety, things can be very stressful. A person in this industry will find that the stress level can be high, but there is a high reward for helping an abuser find peace and get their life back on track.

With a low physical demand, this is an industry in which a counselor will be able to work into their elder years without worry of performance diminishing over time.

A growth rate of 22% makes this a promising field with ample job opportunities for a caring, devoted person that is interested in helping others change their lives.