Substance Abuse & Behavior Disorder Counseling

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Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems, providing treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors. Some 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 people with disabilities.

Education and Certification Requirements

Educational requirements range from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Workers with more 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 less 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 $41,070 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,080. Pay also depends on education level.

Job Outlook

Employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is projected to grow 22 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. The law requires insurance plans to cover treatment for mental health disorders in the same way as other chronic diseases. T

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