How to become an addiction counselor

September 27, 2022 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
Are you interested in becoming an addiction counselor? Learn what skills you need and how Arizona State University's online Master of Science in addiction psychology can prepare you for the career.

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, bringing attention to the importance of substance abuse prevention. Substance misuse is one of the largest preventable health crises in the U.S., with 40.3 million or 14.5% of Americans receiving a substance use disorder diagnosis in 2020. This statistic alone shows just how great of a need there is for addiction counselors who can provide the necessary counseling and support to those suffering from substance misuse and addiction.

“We just don’t have enough providers to meet the demand for the number of people who are struggling with addiction,” said Matthew Meier, clinical associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University.


What is an addiction counselor?

Addiction counselors are trained and licensed mental health professionals who work with individuals, families and communities to provide treatment and support to those struggling with substance misuse. Addiction counselors may specialize in treating general drug or alcohol abuse, or choose to focus on specific addictive behaviors. For many people dealing with substance misuse, addiction counselors provide a vital link to recovery.

Addiction counselors may also go by other job titles, including substance use disorder counselor, substance abuse counselor and alcohol and drug counselor. Licensure occurs at the state level, and different states have chosen different names. While they all have the same meaning, according to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction counselor and substance use disorder counselor are emerging as the preferred terms.


What does an addiction counselor do?

Addiction counselors can work in a wide variety of treatment settings, such as substance misuse treatment centers, community mental health agencies, integrated health or primary care settings, criminal justice centers, hospitals, high schools and university counseling centers, as well as military and veterans services. While day-to-day duties can vary, addiction counselors typically:

  • Assess and evaluate clients’ addictions, behaviors and mental health and assess their need for treatment.
  • Develop, recommend and review treatment plans and goals with clients and their families.
  • Direct outreach programs to help communities identify the signs of addiction and ways to find help.
  • Educate clients’ family members about addiction and help them develop strategies to cope and assist in recovery.
  • Refer clients to other resources and services, such as support groups and job placement services.
  • Teach clients new skills and practices.
  • Work with clients to help identify behaviors and situations that may interfere with their recovery.


What skills does an addiction counselor need to have?

There are several valuable traits and soft skills that successful addiction counselors possess, including:

  • Ability to handle stressful situations.
  • Confidence.
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity. 
  • Desire to help others.
  • Empathy.
  • Good listener.
  • Patience.
  • Resilience. 
  • Strong sense of ethics.
  • Strong communication skills.


How to become an addiction counselor

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, addiction counseling jobs are projected to grow 22% from 2022 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This increase is due to the demand of those seeking treatment, as well as states expanding their mental health services.

The first step toward becoming an addiction counselor is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, substance abuse or a related field. To become a licensed addiction counselor, you’ll also need to earn a graduate-level degree and complete the minimum number of work experience hours. In addition to earning a degree, all states require that addiction counselors:

  • Have a license or certification.
  • Pass a felony and child abuse background check.

While specifics vary by state, most states have multiple levels of licensure.


Earn a master’s or graduate certificate in addiction counseling online

If you’re ready to pursue a career as an addiction counselor, consider one of ASU Online’s two graduate-level offerings in addiction counseling:

The Master of Science in addiction psychology degree provides the educational foundation required for licensure as an addiction counselor, including an applied practicum experience.

“Addiction is such a complicated disease that you really need to have hands-on experience to know how to help someone,” said Robert Ewing, marketing and communications manager for the ASU Department of Psychology. “Textbook knowledge is nice, but the 600 hours of required practicum experience is monitored by licensed training professionals that can guide the students through the real scenarios that they are experiencing.”

The courses in the master’s in addiction studies program meet the educational requirements for national certification, qualifying program graduates for licensure in nearly every state.

ASU Online also offers a graduate certificate in addiction and substance use related disorders. This certificate offers the foundational knowledge needed to seek an entry-level license and can be paired with other behavioral health degrees, such as a master's in counseling, psychology, nursing or social work to receive dual licensure.

Both programs equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue state licensure and become an addiction counselor.

Everything you need to know about ASU Online classes and degree programs

We’ve compiled what you need to know about online classes and degree programs at Arizona State University. Read on to learn all about what to expect from the ASU Online learning experience.


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