Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school students who are considering a career in alcohol and drug abuse counseling should choose a curriculum that meets the requirements of the college or university they hope to attend. Typically, four years of English, history, mathematics, a foreign language, and social sciences are necessary. In addition, psychology, sociology, physiology, biology, and anatomy provide a good academic background for potential counselors.

Postsecondary Training

The educational requirements for alcohol and drug abuse counselors vary greatly by state and employer, work setting, and level of responsibility. A high school education may be the minimum requirement for employers who provide on-the-job training, which ranges from six weeks to two years. These jobs, however, are becoming increasingly rare as more states are leaning toward stricter requirements for counselors. Some employers require an associate's degree in alcohol and drug technology. Most substance abuse counselors, however, have a bachelor's degree in counseling, psychology, health sociology, or social work. Many two- and four-year colleges now offer specific courses for students training to be substance abuse counselors.

Many counselors have a master's degree in counseling with a specialization in substance abuse counseling. A master’s degree is required to become licensed or certified as a counselor.  Accredited graduate programs in substance abuse counseling are composed of a supervised internship as well as regular class work.


The NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals offers a certificate in spiritual caregiving to help addicted persons and families and a certificate in conflict resolution in recovery. Contact the association for more information.

Other Education or Training

The American Counseling Association offers online continuing education classes that cover topics such as best practices, ethics and legal issues, technology, and management issues. The NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals offers webinars, seminars, and other continuing education opportunities on topics such as billing, conflict resolution, professional ethics, and counseling and treatment strategies.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals offers several professional designations including national certified addiction counselor, master addiction counselor, nicotine dependence specialist, substance abuse professional, and adolescent specialist. Additionally, the National Board for Certified Counselors offers the master addiction counselor designation to counselors who hold the national certified counselor designation and meet educational and professional experience requirements.

Currently, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have credentialing laws for alcohol and drug abuse counselors. These laws typically require that counselors have a minimum of a master’s degree and two to three years of post academic supervised counseling experience. Candidates must also have passed a written test.

Other Requirements

Aside from havig a master’s degree, counselors must undertake two to three years of postacademic supervised counseling experience. They must also pass a written test.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Students should obtain as much experience in the field as possible by participating in summer internships, volunteering, and part-time jobs with counseling-related employers. In order to be successful in this job, prospective counselors should enjoy working with people. They must have compassion, good communication and listening skills, and a desire to help others. They should also be emotionally stable and able to deal with the frustrations and failures that are often a part of the job.