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Substance Abuse & Behavior Disorder Counseling

Job Duties

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors advise people who struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems, providing treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors. Some counselors work with clients individually, others in group sessions. They teach clients to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover and help clients rebuild personal and professional relationships. Some work in facilities with other health professionals. Some work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or individuals with disabilities.

Education and Certification Requirements

Most substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors have at least a bachelor's degree; however, educational requirements range from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Workers with more years of formal education are able to provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with fewer years of education. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require a master’s degree and between 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete continuing education every year. 


The median annual wage for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $44,630 in May 2018. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,990. Pay also depends on education level.

Job Outlook

Employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling.

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