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Career Center
Substance Abuse Counselor Fight Abuse Drug Addictions

I have no degree, but I did complete two years of college with an online school five years ago. I dropped out due to alcohol and drug addiction problems. I'm now three years sober, and want to become a substance abuse counselor. Are there online counseling degrees that lead to substance abuse certification? Where should I start? What should I look for when searching for online psychology schools that can help me become a certified substance abuse counselor?
—Rita in Albany, N.Y.

First, congratulations on your sobriety. That took courage. Sounds like you've considered this career change and are motivated to make it happen. Congrats on that, too.
The steps to becoming a substance abuse counselor vary by state. To enter this career, you'll need to meet both educational and work experience requirements. Our counselors did some research for you and here's what we discovered.

You can become a substance abuse counselor by completing many different types of online psychology degree programs. The most common major for a substance abuse counselor would be the drug and alcohol counseling degree.
To become a substance abuse counselor, you will need to: 1) meet state educational requirements; 2) work as a counselor; 3) have a clean legal record; and 4) apply for certification in your state.
Because substance counseling is regulated by state certification, it is critical that you identify and meet the first three requirements for becoming a certified addiction counselor before enrolling in any online counseling program.
Read on to learn how to choose the right online degrees, certificates and courses to help you become a substance abuse counselor.

Substance abuse and drug addiction counselors help people who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling and eating disorders. (You know this but our other readers may not!) They counsel those who are addicted to substances and help them to overcome problems related to these addictions. Drug counselors study individual, group and family counseling techniques. They may work in public health organizations, drug rehab centers, private practice or hospital settings.

You asked about a critical factor: counselor certification. Many online counseling degrees and certificates can be used to qualify for drug, alcohol and substance abuse counseling certification in most states.
To become state certified, you usually need to earn a certificate or an online counseling degree with a substance abuse or addiction counseling emphasis.
In most states, some formal education is required to become a certified drug or addiction counselor. In New York, for example, the education required to gain a credential in drug and addiction counseling is 350 clock hours related to chemical dependency counseling (as a counselor, not as a patient).
However, with this little education, you must also complete a minimum of 6,000 hours (approximately three years) of supervised counseling experience in an approved work setting.
The more formal education you have, the less counseling work experience you will need to qualify for certification. Getting educated pays in this career niche. Investing in a degree will help you hasten your career change and qualify for higher pay rates.
In New York, online counseling or human services degrees may be substituted for counseling work hours. A bachelor’s degree may be substituted for 2,000 of the 6,000 work experience hours. Counseling degrees or human services degrees at the master's level may be substituted for the remaining 4,000 hours of work experience.
Certified substance abuse and drug counselors are often governed by a different agency than regular mental health counselors. Criteria for drug counseling certification varies by state. If you intend to relocate soon or to seek work across state lines, check with neighboring states before enrolling in any counseling courses.

Many types of counseling degrees might help you launch or advance a career in addiction treatment.
Substance abuse is one area of counseling where you may be able to enter and establish yourself quickly by earning an online certificate or an online associate degree in human services or psychology. You said you completed two years of college online. You either have or are close to having an associate degree. You may want to complete that degree with a major in psychology or human services as a part of your long-term career plan.
No matter which state you call home, a substance abuse or addiction counseling certificate is often the minimum education required for entry-level work in the drug counseling profession. The best paying positions and counseling certification may require a bachelor's degree—or even a master's degree.
If your goal is to open a private counseling practice or to qualify for health insurance reimbursements, you should consider a master's in counseling. Drug counseling can be done on an individual basis, but it is frequently done in a group setting. Counselors also often work with family members affected by their loved ones' addictions and can specialize by earning marriage and family therapy counseling degrees online.

There is strong demand for your new career. The demand for certified drug counselors and substance abuse specialists is expected to grow 21 percent—much faster than average—through 2018. As society becomes more knowledgeable about addiction, people are increasingly seeking treatment. Drug offenders are even being sent to treatment programs rather than to jail.
Be forewarned though: opportunities are good in the substance abuse counseling field because of relatively low wages and long hours. Burnout is high in this career field.
Pay is low. The more degrees you earn, the higher your pay rate will climb. Supervisors holding master's degrees command the best pay (and working conditions). According to data from career surveys, substance abuse counselors earn an average salary of about $38,000. The middle 50 percent earn about $30,000 to $48,000. The highest 10 percent earn more than $60,000.
Insurance companies and elementary and secondary schools pay the highest salaries to drug and substance abuse counselors. Self-employed, private practice counselors earn the highest wages. Most private practice counselors have master's degrees as well as state and national counseling certifications.

Because many states maintain low educational barriers for entering this area of counseling, drug counseling is a great specialty niche for anyone interested in switching to this field.
If you already hold a bachelor's degree in an area other than psychology, you usually do not need to earn a second bachelor's degree online. Instead, you can earn a career certificate in addiction counseling.
Once employed as a drug counselor, you can choose to work toward an advanced online counseling degree or a human services degree.
If you are interested in this career area, you may also be interested in allied credentials such as an online social work degree.

© 2009-2013 Get Educated®, Get Educated, Inc. 

Vicky Phillips, Founder of Get Educated was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees, Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College. She oversees the best online college rankings and reviews for

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