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Substance Abuse/Addiction Counseling

Program Description

Just the Facts

Substance Abuse/Addiction Counseling. A program that prepares individuals to help prevent substance abuse, counsel individuals and families with drug and alcohol problems, and perform intervention and therapeutic services for persons suffering from addiction. Includes instruction in individual and group counseling skills, psychology of addiction, sociology, crisis intervention, substance abuse identification methodologies, substance abuse treatment modalities, substance abuse prevention and treatment resources, pharmacology and behavioral aspects of abused substances, treatment evaluation, patient observation and education, group dynamics, professional standards and ethics, and applicable law and regulations.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this career cluster:

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:

Related Programs

Often similar programs have different names. Be sure to explore all your options.

Additional Information

Students in addictions counseling programs learn how to help people who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, tobacco and other addictions. These programs teach students a variety of skills such as assessment, referral, case management and discharge planning. Students learn how to facilitate individual and group therapy.

Students may take classes in philosophy, psychology, pharmacology, sociology, communication and social work in addition to counseling skills classes. Most programs include some practical experience.

One- or two-year diploma programs are available at the community college level. Some institutions offer addictions counseling as part of a bachelor's degree program. Post-graduate programs are available for people who already have credentials in related fields.

Look for a program that is accredited by a recognized organization. Licensing differs from state to state. It is important to research the requirements for your state.

For example, from July of 2008, Minnesota requires a bachelor's degree to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. "As a result, we have a major in alcohol and drug counseling which leads to a BS degree," says William J. Payne. He is an associate professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN.

"In Washington, social work, psychology, community health and prevention programs do not meet the education standards for certification as a chemical dependency professional," says Paul Weatherly. He is the director of the Alcohol/Drug Counseling Program at Washington's Bellevue Community College.

In Washington, there is a huge shortage of chemical dependency professionals (CDPs), according to Weatherly. "The good consequence of this is that beginning salaries are rising and helping to make the profession more attractive to young people," he says.

These days, more counselors specialize in tobacco, gambling and other addictions. Counseling specific to gambling addictions is a relatively new specialty. It's been growing along with the legalization of gambling.

Because this field offers a lot of choices, Weatherly helps his students to begin identifying their career path. "We typically break it down into segments based on where the student wants to be in their career at two, five and 10 years. This helps us to develop the education plan that will most efficiently take the student in the direction they have identified."

Some career paths will require a master of social work degree while others will require degrees in mental health counseling.

To get on the right path in high school, be active in your community.

"Volunteer in the social services," says Payne. "Find out if helping people is what you want to dedicate your life to."

Urstad recommends taking courses in the humanities and some biology in high school.

Weatherly says that courses or activities that involve public speaking are helpful. He also recommends a job in customer relations. This can help you to develop listening and problem-solving skills.

"Apart from tuition and textbooks, there are no other expenses beyond the time required to attend the program," says Urstad.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Human Service Workers and Assistants

The Wellness Resource Centre and ADAPT
Learn about the work of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team

The Association for Addiction Professionals
It's possible to specialize in tobacco addiction

Counselor: The Magazine for Addictions Professionals
Online resource for addictions counsellors


  • Email Support
  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900
  • North Dakota Career Resource Network
    ndcrn@nd.gov | (701) 328-9733