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Addictions Counselors

At a Glance

  • Develop treatment plans for clients
  • Have a high level of social contact
  • Have a bachelor's degree
  • May need to be certified or licensed
  • Can advance to become program managers

Career summary

Addictions counselors help people overcome alcohol, drug, gambling, and other dependencies.

Addictions counselors may also be called chemical dependency counselors.

#4/15/19 lh

People with addictions suffer emotionally, physically, and economically. Addictions counselors help these people identify their problem behaviors and find ways to change those behaviors.

Addictions counselors help their clients change compulsive habits and learn new ways of coping with problems. They work with individuals and groups. They may help families learn how to deal with the emotional and social effects of addictions. Counselors teach family members how to provide support for the addict and for themselves.

Addictions counselors review records and interview clients. They may speak with doctors, family members, police, and other counselors to determine the client's condition and situation. The counselor and patient develop a therapy plan for recovery.

Counselors may refer patients to support services such as medical evaluation and treatment, social services, and employment services. Counselors follow the patient's progress and may revise the therapy plan as needed. Addictions counselors prepare and maintain written records and case files.

Addictions counselors speak to groups concerned with drug and alcohol abuse and other addictions. They may prepare documents for presentation in court and accompany clients to legal proceedings.

Addictions counselors provide treatment in a variety of settings including:

Addictions counselors with advanced degrees and licenses can become program directors in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. They may also run government health and human service agencies.

Related careers

This career is part of the Human Services cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to addictions counselors.

Common work activities

Addictions counselors perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, addictions counselors:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Addictions counselors frequently:

It is important for addictions counselors to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for addictions counselors to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Addictions counselors need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an addictions counselor, you must:

Education after high school

You need at least an associate degree to work as a counselor. Programs are available at professional-technical schools and two-year colleges. These programs teach you counseling skills. You also learn about drug and alcohol pharmacology. Programs also include education on HIV and AIDS risk assessment.

Or, you might choose to attend a four-year college or universities' bachelor's or master's program in addiction counseling. Most four-year institutions offer advanced degrees in various human services fields of study. Graduate programs take one to two years of full-time study after you have a bachelor's degree. You should take classes that develop your skills in clinical assessments, caseload management, and counseling.

Some addictions counselors have a certificate degree in addictions counseling. These programs are meant for people who have a degree in a related field, such as social work.

Addictions counselors may need to obtain certification in CPR and first aid. This training is available in most communities through the Red Cross and local hospitals.

Work experience

Part-time or volunteer work at a social service agency is good background for this occupation. Internships may be available at some agencies.

On-the-job training

Employers often provide training to new addictions counselors. They may allow you to work while you get your state or local certification. You will also be trained in the operational procedures of the new facility and its treatment program. Training generally lasts up to a year.

Military training

The military trains people to work as caseworkers and counselors. This training lasts from eight to ten weeks. Further training occurs on the job and through advanced courses.

Some military counselors focus on drug and alcohol-related issues.

#Reviewed this section 2/1/12 & 1/30/14. cj.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Most employers prefer at least a bachelor's degree in a human services field, such as psychology or sociology, to work as a counselor.

Employers look for addictions counselors who have cooperative working skills, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, and the ability to work with a wide variety of people.

Certification or licensing as a counselor is also preferred. However, some employers will allow you to complete your certifications while you work.

Costs to workers

Some workers may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues.


Addictions counselors need to be certified as chemical dependency professionals by the State of Washington. The current certification requirements include:

For chemical dependency professional trainees the application fee is $110 and the annual renewal is $90.

For chemical dependency professionals the certification application fee is $260 and the initial certification fee is $295. The annual renewal fee is $300.

To renew their license, addictions counselors must complete a plan that shows how they will stay proficient in their occupation. They also must complete 28 hours of continuing education and 12 hours of professional development activities every two years. Counselors must also take three hours of training in suicide assessment every six years.

For more information on state licensing, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Health Professions and Facilities
Chemical Dependency Program (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504-7877

#Fees, general info ok; added suicide assessment training req. 1/25/16 cj. no changes 1/17/17 lh, or 1/29/18 cj. updated pro fees, url 4/15/19 lh


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (SOC 21-1018)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $15.18 $17.61 $21.60 $27.15 $34.66
Monthly $2,631 $3,052 $3,743 $4,705 $6,007
Yearly $31,570 $36,620 $44,930 $56,480 $72,090
    Bellingham Hourly $13.23 $14.95 $25.69 $29.84 $33.95
Monthly $2,293 $2,591 $4,452 $5,171 $5,884
Yearly $27,517 $31,096 $53,443 $62,059 $70,617
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $14.29 $17.40 $23.83 $29.89 $36.57
Monthly $2,476 $3,015 $4,130 $5,180 $6,338
Yearly $29,739 $36,196 $49,570 $62,175 $76,054
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $23.33 $26.16 $28.91 $35.85 $72.07
Monthly $4,043 $4,534 $5,010 $6,213 $12,490
Yearly $48,532 $54,404 $60,135 $74,580 $149,916
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $17.47 $20.50 $24.43 $29.96 $36.08
Monthly $3,028 $3,553 $4,234 $5,192 $6,253
Yearly $36,337 $42,651 $50,818 $62,317 $75,039
    Longview Hourly $15.26 $18.38 $22.87 $29.16 $36.48
Monthly $2,645 $3,185 $3,963 $5,053 $6,322
Yearly $31,752 $38,239 $47,579 $60,644 $75,879
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $18.28 $21.52 $25.22 $29.24 $32.13
Monthly $3,168 $3,729 $4,371 $5,067 $5,568
Yearly $38,030 $44,764 $52,463 $60,812 $66,830
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $15.63 $17.86 $23.29 $30.05 $35.60
Monthly $2,709 $3,095 $4,036 $5,208 $6,169
Yearly $32,496 $37,139 $48,435 $62,512 $74,037
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $15.61 $17.96 $21.71 $26.28 $34.74
Monthly $2,705 $3,112 $3,762 $4,554 $6,020
Yearly $32,462 $37,352 $45,150 $54,653 $72,269
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $15.16 $17.44 $20.85 $26.06 $32.53
Monthly $2,627 $3,022 $3,613 $4,516 $5,637
Yearly $31,537 $36,264 $43,355 $54,196 $67,656
    Vancouver Hourly $18.22 $21.50 $27.84 $39.95 $49.13
Monthly $3,158 $3,726 $4,825 $6,923 $8,514
Yearly $37,899 $44,723 $57,899 $83,094 $102,185
    Walla Walla Hourly $15.72 $18.18 $21.48 $24.45 $28.56
Monthly $2,724 $3,151 $3,722 $4,237 $4,949
Yearly $32,704 $37,807 $44,684 $50,858 $59,394
    Wenatchee Hourly $14.65 $17.50 $23.76 $33.48 $37.05
Monthly $2,539 $3,033 $4,118 $5,802 $6,421
Yearly $30,481 $36,403 $49,403 $69,637 $77,067
    Yakima Hourly $14.55 $16.40 $18.86 $27.45 $33.52
Monthly $2,522 $2,842 $3,268 $4,757 $5,809
Yearly $30,258 $34,118 $39,233 $57,098 $69,731
United States Hourly $13.58 $16.80 $21.46 $27.68 $35.09
Monthly $2,353 $2,911 $3,719 $4,797 $6,081
Yearly $28,240 $34,950 $44,630 $57,580 $72,990

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The counselor's level of experience also affects wages.

Counselors who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

Tougher DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) laws requiring treatment have increased the number of programs and the need for substance abuse counselors. Increased federal emphasis on drug abuse treatment and prevention may generate demand for workers.

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors (SOC 21-1018)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
United States 304,500 22.5% 5.2% 41,500

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand is expected to be strong for addictions counselors. New health care laws require that insurance providers cover more mental health services. This will lead to more jobs for addictions counselors.

Several states have passed laws that require counseling instead of jail for people caught with drugs. This shift requires more addictions counselors in those states. Treatment centers are also believed to be more cost effective than prisons to run.

Other resources

American College of Medical Toxicology (external link)
10645 N. Tatum Blvd Suite 200-111
Phoenix, AZ 85028
American Counseling Association (external link)
6101 Stevenson Avenue, Suite 600
Alexandria, VA 22304
How Can I Become a Certified Peer Counselor? (external link) (PDF file)
International Association of Peer Supporters (external link)
PO Box 775
Norton, MA 02766
NAADAC: The Association for Addiction Professionals (external link)
44 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 301
Alexandria, VA 22314


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Holland occupational cluster