Can You Become a Substance Abuse Counselor With an Associate’s Degree?

Substance Abuse CounselorPeople often think that addiction counselors have a high level of education and experience, but you can become a substance abuse counselor with an associate’s degree. Though some larger schools offer this type of degree, you can typically earn an associate’s degree from a community college or a vocational school, and students can finish most programs in two years or less. Before you focus solely on the degree required, think about the job itself.

What is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor is someone who works directly with a patient addicted to drugs or alcohol. Counselors don’t usually specialize in a specific type of addiction, and they might work with alcoholics and those addicted to illegal drugs or prescription medications in the same day. Getting the patient to admit that he or she has a problem is the main goal of a counselor, but counselors also help patients understand why they use drugs, how their drug use affects others and why they need to stop using that substance. They work with clients in private settings and run group sessions too.

Do Counselors Need Licenses?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those working in a private practice setting must have a license. You cannot get your license with just an associate’s degree. Those applying for a license must have a master’s degree and completed a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical experience or fieldwork. Some states even require that applicants have up to 4,000 hours of clinical experience. The other requirements for licensing varies, but you should check with your state about whether you can apply for a license. Rehabilitation centers, community clinics and other public substance abuse centers might not require a license.

Where Do Counselors Work?

Substance abuse counselors work in a variety of settings. Those working in private practices often have their own offices or share a space with other counselors and doctors. They accept referrals from doctors and other health practitioners, and they work with clients on an individual basis. Rehabilitation centers are stand alone clinics and centers connected to hospitals that treat patients of all ages and backgrounds. These clinics often hire those with only an associate’s degree, but they also look for more experienced counselors. You might also work at a hospital, a community health clinic or in another medical setting.

Can You Become a Substance Abuse Counselor with Associate’s Degree?

Not all states require an advanced degree or a large amount of experience of those working as substance abuse counselors. You can become a counselor with a lower level degree, but you usually need to spend time working on the job and getting some experience on the job before accepting a position. Many counselors find that they can earn more money and obtain their licenses after completing some fieldwork and a graduate program. You also have the option of working in substance abuse center with an associate’s degree as you finish your Master’s in counseling.

Related Resource: Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

A two-year degree lets you gain a foothold in the substance abuse field, but that degree can only take you so far. If you want to earn your license or increase your salary, you need to get a more advanced degree. Think about the pros and cons before you decide to become a substance abuse counselor with associate’s degree only.