What Does It Mean to Be an Addiction Counselor?

Published: 09th September 2008
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With the number of jobs increasing faster than people are graduating from counseling programs, now could be the right time to enter this worthwhile profession.



What Does an Addiction Counselor Do?

Two types of counselors deal with addictions: mental health counselors and substance abuse counselors. Mental health counselors usually help individuals or groups with a wider variety of issues including depression, stress, and sometimes addiction or substance abuse.



Substance abuse counselors focus their entire practice on people with addictions. Their clients may have problems with drugs, alcohol, gambling, or even eating disorders. A lot of times they hold group sessions for addicts or their families, or run programs dedicated to preventing addictions.



Where Do Addiction Counselors Work?

A wide variety of facilities employ addiction counselors. Those that employ the most include:

• Outpatient Care Centers

• Residential Mental Retardation, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities

• Individual and Family Services

• General Medical and Surgical Hospitals



Other industries employ far fewer professionals, but offer higher salaries:

• Insurance Carriers

• Elementary and Secondary Schools

• Specialty Hospitals (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals)

• Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools



Local government is the one industry that makes the top 5 list in both categories.



Working hours can also vary widely depending on where you work. Some counselors work evening and weekend hours to accommodate people with full-time jobs, others may work more traditional hours.



How Do You Become an Addiction Counselor?

Both education and licensing requirements vary by state, especially if you want to become a substance abuse counselor. In most states, a different agency or board governs them than the one that governs all other counselors. For instance, substance abuse counselors may only need a high school diploma plus counselor certification. By contrast, other counselors need a master's degree, up to 2-years of supervised clinical experience, and a passing score on a state-recognized exam to obtain a license.



In any counseling field, you can choose to take an exam to receive national certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). It's not mandatory, but it does indicate to employers a certain level of proficiency.



The Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) offers several other optional certifications specifically for addiction counselors. There are certificate programs focusing on drugs and alcohol, tobacco, and adolescent addictions. Finally, the Master Addiction Counselor certification is for those counselors who have a master's degree plus three years of supervised experience. Again, none of these are required for licensing but they can advance your career.



Job Prospects and Salaries for Addiction Counselors

While job prospects are excellent and growing rapidly, people don't enter this profession to make huge amounts of money. The median earnings for addiction counselors in 2006 were $34,040, considerably lower than those of psychologists. Addiction counseling is an easier field to enter, however, with generally lower education requirements. Salaries are higher at the top employers, with mean annual wages at $42,430 for local government and mean salaries over $49,000 for those employed at elementary and secondary schools or with insurance carriers.



People who enter this profession can be proud of their work, helping individuals and loved ones deal with the difficulties of addictions and hopefully overcome them.



Kelli Smith is the senior editor for www.Edu411.org. Edu411.org lists colleges and career institutes that offer training and programs in Addiction Counseling. Schools listed offer free information packages or academic consultation.

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