Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or other mental or behavioral problems.

Work Environment: Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, such as mental health centers, community health centers, prisons, and private practice. Most work full time.

How to Become One: Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Salary: The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $48,520.

Job Outlook: Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 22 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselor with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs

  • Detection Substance Abuse Counselor - Detection And Treatment Resources - Los Angeles, CA

    This position is for a male Detection Substance Abuse Counselor who will provide random observed UA/BA urine/breath testing with federal government contracts. The position entails providing services ...

  • Substance Abuse Counselor - Posterity Group, LLC - Orlando, FL

    Substance Abuse Counselor - SARP in Jacksonville, NC (RELOCATION ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE) Currently recruiting a Substance Abuse Counselor / Licensed Addictions Counselor to work in the Behavioral ...

  • Certified Substance Abuse Counselor for Outpatient - Interfaith Community Se - Escondido, CA

    Substance abuse counselors provide support to clients who are experiencing homelessness, have alcohol and/or drug addictions, mental health, and social/legal/economic barriers. Substance abuse ...

See all Substance Abuse Counselor jobs

Top 3 Mental Health Counselor Jobs

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (Fully Remote) - Gotham Enterprises Ltd - Tacoma, WA

    Join us and become a Remote Mental Health Counselor . We have both full-time and part-time roles available. Take control of your life by making your own work schedule, and earn up to $100k per year ...

  • Mental Health Counselor or Therapist - Remote - Guideline Healthcare - Valleyford, WA

    Following credentials are accepted - Licensed Mental Health Counselor - LMHC, LCMHC, Licensed Clinical Social Worker - LCSW, LICSW , Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - LMFT , Licensed ...

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor/Therapist - Along the Path Counseling Services, P.C. - Rockford, IL

    Licensed Mental Health Counselor , Private Practice RECENT GRADS ENCOURAGED TO APPLY - Along the Path is a small private practice offering benefits generally reserved for larger organizations such as ...

See all Mental Health Counselor jobs

What Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Do[About this section] [To Top]

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Duties of Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically do the following:

  • Evaluate clients' mental and physical health, addiction, or problematic behavior and assess their readiness for treatment
  • Develop, recommend, and review treatment goals and plans with clients and their families
  • Assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
  • Teach clients' family members about addiction or behavior disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
  • Refer clients to other resources and services, such as job placement services and support groups
  • Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior

Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life's problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problems with family and friends.

Some addiction counselors work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. Addiction counselors may work with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, and registered nurses to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.

Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues, such as difficulty managing anger, to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems.

Work Environment for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors[About this section] [To Top]

Mental health counselors hold about 351,000 jobs. The largest employers of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are as follows:

Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 19%
Individual and family services 15%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 10%
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 9%
Government 8%

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, prisons, probation or parole agencies, and juvenile detention facilities. They also work in halfway houses, detox centers, or in employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are mental health programs provided by some employers to help employees deal with personal problems.

Some addiction counselors work in residential treatment centers, where clients live in the facility for a fixed period of time. Others work with clients in outpatient treatment centers. Some counselors work in private practice, where they may work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals.

Although rewarding, the work of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is often stressful. Many counselors have to deal with large workloads. They do not always have enough resources to meet the demand for their services. Also, they may have to intervene in crisis situations or work with agitated clients, which can be difficult.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor Work Schedules

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors near you!

Most positions require at least a bachelor's degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master's degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master's degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Education for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor's degree. However, depending on the state and employer, educational requirements for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master's degree. Workers with psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, and similar master's degrees can provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education. Those interested should research their state's educational requirements.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require these counselors to have a master's degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The licensure criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam. Contact information for individual states' licensing boards can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.

All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, after completing a period of postdegree supervised clinical work under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Other Experience for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

There is a long tradition of people who have overcome their own addictions to be involved in counseling others to overcome their addictions. Counselors with personal experience overcoming alcohol or drug addictions are sometimes viewed as especially helpful and insightful to those seeking treatment.

Important Qualities for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Compassion. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors must be able to work with different types of people. They spend most of their time working directly with clients or other professionals and must be able to develop and nurture good relationships.

Listening skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need good listening skills. They must give their full attention to a client to be able to understand that client's problems and values.

Patience. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors must be able to remain calm when working with all types of clients, including those who may be distressed or angry.

Speaking skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need to be able to effectively communicate with clients. They must express ideas and information in a way that their clients easily understand.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $48,520. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $77,980.

The median annual wages for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in the top industries in which they worked are as follows:

Government $60,450
Hospitals; state, local, and private $49,630
Individual and family services $47,940
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers $47,550
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities $42,900

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

Job Outlook for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 22 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 43,600 openings for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment of Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Employment growth is expected in this occupation as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling services. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors experienced an increase in demand due to the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on many individuals' mental health.

Demand for these workers also is expected to increase as states seek treatment and counseling services rather than jail time for people with addictions or mental health concerns. In addition, there will be a continued need for counselors to work with military veterans to provide them the appropriate mental health or substance abuse counseling care.

Employment projections data for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors 351,000 428,500 22 77,500


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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