Job description

Substance abuse counsellors work with patients and help them through alcohol, drug and other substance abuse recovery. Their work typically involves partnering with patients’ families or friends to navigate through the rehabilitation process with various treatment strategies.


    • Meet patients and their families to devise a treatment plan tailored to their needs
    • Establish a plan and coordinate with other clinical staff to come up with the right treatment
    • Modify treatment plans when you think they are not going as expected
    • Interview individuals and understand their history, problems and opinions
    • Maintain, update and organise client records and compose reports detailing case history
    • Act as an advocate for all the patients you work with so that they feel supported
    • Intervene in certain situations to ensure patients do not resort to personal crises
    • Review patients’ progress and determine if they are meeting milestones and goals
    • Communicate with clients on a regular basis to get updates on their personal lives and thoughts
    • Confer with other medical- and non-medical professionals, such as probation officers or community support workers
    • Collect and analyse bodily samples to measure substance consumption
    • Plan or follow through on aftercare programmes for patients who are set to be discharged
    • Keep in touch with discharged patients
    • Work with other organisations and groups to identify community problems and solutions

Skills and qualities

Time management
Critical thinking

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2018 to 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 5%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2018 and 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

Substance abuse counsellors can typically advance to supervisory, management or training positions following several years of experience, hours of one-on-one care and many successful cases.

Working conditions

Average hours

40h/ week

Typical schedule

Full Time

Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally

A substance abuse counsellor’s working hours will typically depend on their place of employment, though working the occasional evening, weekend or holiday is to be expected.

The work requires frequent travel to visit the patients’ homes, workplaces or other venues where individuals might feel more comfortable. You will also fulfill your day-to-day tasks in a clinic, such as a substance abuse centre or outpatient mental health institution, where you have access to records, resources and experts who can provide an informed opinion.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level


Bachelor’s degree in psychology or related subject

Study time

4 years

You’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree in psychology, mental health counselling or clinical social work to become a substance abuse counsellor. That said, some employers might accept a high school diploma, while others might request a master’s degree.

Substance abuse counselors are mandated to hold certification in most jurisdictions, whether you are employed in private practice or at a government-run facility. In order to become certified, you will need to complete as many as 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, in addition to a state-issued exam. You will also need to complete continuing education courses every year.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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