Becoming a licensed professional counselor can offer you a rewarding career path. If you enjoy talking with others and helping them overcome challenges in life, counseling could be the ideal field for you. Not only is the work meaningful, but you also stand to earn a competitive salary.
Substance abuse counselors have specific skills and education to help those dealing with addiction, and they are in high demand across the country. However, earning a master’s degree could allow you to command an even higher salary, thanks to your advanced level of skills and education.
Interested to learn more about the role and what the average substance abuse counselor salary is? Let’s take a closer look at the career path and some data on the average salaries of substance abuse counselors in the U.S.
What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor?
Substance abuse counseling is a part of mental health counseling. The discipline focuses specifically on working with clients who are experiencing issues with addiction, or those in recovery who have dealt with such issues previously. Additionally, substance abuse counselors may also see clients who have struggled with eating disorders.
The primary responsibilities of a substance abuse counselor are to engage clients on their issues, help them understand challenges and teach them tools for coping or managing their mental health. Some other responsibilities of a substance abuse counselor include:
- Completing formal client onboarding and assessment, (e.g., recording personal information, symptoms and medical history)
- Evaluating the physical and mental health of clients
- Identifying challenges and then developing and implementing a treatment program
- Teaching clients various skills and strategies for addressing their own addiction or eating disorder
- Engaging family and others to assist in the recovery of the individual
- Making referrals to other professional counselors
There are two important notes to make about the substance abuse counselor job:
- They often run group counseling sessions: Group sessions can be beneficial for those struggling with substances because participants can see they are not alone. Helping clients learn from each other can be highly effective, but group sessions require particular skills from the counselor. The dynamics are different from one-on-one interactions, and substance abuse counselors need to know how to manage the conversation, steer it toward productive discussion and resolve potential conflicts.
- They may work with clients long term: Because of the nature of addiction, substance abuse counselors are likely to have ongoing client relationships. Relapse is an ever-present risk, even for those who have been sober or healthy for years. As such, the substance abuse counselor may have long-term relationships with several clients.
What’s the Average Substance Abuse Counselor Salary?
Before we get to salary numbers, let’s take a look at the employment situation for substance abuse counselors. A high rate of job growth indicates such professionals are in demand, which also means they could earn competitive salaries.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for substance abuse and behavioral disorder mental health counselors is expected to reach 22 percent between 2018 and 2028. That’s well above the 5 percent projected growth rate across all occupations.
In terms of salary, substance abuse counselors in the United States had a median annual salary of $46,240 in May 2019. The highest 10 percent of earners had a median salary of $76,080.
The substance abuse counselor salary you may see can vary depending on where you work. According to the BLS, counselors in:
- Government made $52,720
- State, local or private hospitals made $49,100
- Individual and family services made $46,090
Where Are the Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs?
If you’re considering this career path, it helps to know where the substance abuse counselor jobs are. According to the BLS, the industries with the highest total employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder mental health counselors in 2019 were:
- Outpatient care centers ($48,150 median salary)
- Individual and family services ($50,700)
- Residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health and substance abuse facilities ($42,380)
- Offices of other health practitioners ($53,620)
- Local government, excluding schools and hospitals ($57,440)
In terms of geography, the metropolitan areas with the highest levels of total substance abuse counselor employment were:
- New York City-Newark-Jersey City ($58,750)
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif. ($55,660)
- Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, Mass. ($47,380)
- Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Ill. ($48,280)
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa. ($50,730)
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla. ($45,690)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn. ($51,440)
- Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. ($51,550)
- Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va. ($58,670)
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif. ($60,290)
Total employment is a useful metric for prospective counselors, but looking at concentration of employment can also help. A high concentration of counselor employment may indicate jobs are in demand, giving you the ability to negotiate for a competitive salary. According to BLS data, the metro areas with the highest concentration of substance abuse counselor jobs in 2019 were:
- New Bedford, Mass. ($50,310)
- Pittsfield, Mass. ($37,630)
- Pueblo, Colo. ($51,380)
- Worcester, Mass.-Conn. ($45,040)
- Leominster-Gardner, Mass. ($46,390)
- Springfield, Mass. ($48,450)
- Altoona, Pa. ($43,970)
- Johnstown, Pa. ($44,570)
- Grants Pass, Ore. ($49,860)
- Springfield, Mo. ($31,230)
Where Can Substance Abuse Counselors Earn the Most?
A career in substance abuse counseling can be particularly rewarding if you find employment in a high-paying area. Substance abuse counselor salary estimates vary depending on a number of factors, but the top-paying metro areas in 2019 (based on annual mean wages) were:
- Lewiston, Idaho ($81,600)
- Salt Lake City ($76,710)
- Reno, Nev. ($75,920)
- Mankato-North Mankato, Minn. ($71,230)
- Hanford-Corcoran, Calif. ($69,420)
- Kennewick-Richland, Wash. ($68,360)
- George, Utah ($67,510)
- San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, Calif. ($66,940)
- Bloomington, Ind. ($66,120)
- Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. ($66,070)
Yet jobs for substance abuse counselors are not found exclusively in big cities and their suburbs. Their services are needed across rural America, especially in light of the opioid crisis. Populations without access to health care and professional mental health services may be disproportionately affected. In 2019, the top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for substance abuse counselor salaries included:
- Eastern Utah nonmetropolitan area ($78,400)
- Central Utah nonmetropolitan area ($68,640)
- Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area ($68,120)
- Alaska nonmetropolitan area ($63,990)
- East Arkansas nonmetropolitan area ($61,950)
How Can Substance Abuse Counselors Advance Their Careers?
Other factors impacting substance abuse counselor salary include years of experience and level of education. In general, the more experience and education you have, the more likely it is you will find opportunities for career advancement through promotions, new employment or a new job title.
According to Salary.com, a substance abuse counselor with eight years of experience had an average salary of more than $56,000 in 2020.
With a graduate degree like Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC), you could gain new skills and education helping you advance your career. Such programs also require an experiential learning component — whether practicums, internships or both — so you can build your real-world experience in anticipation of career advancement.
Earn Your MAC Degree Online at Bradley
Looking for a way into the substance abuse counseling field, or a degree that can help you take your career to the next level? Consider the online MAC program at Bradley. In addition to courses on fundamentals like group counseling and substance abuse, you can also benefit from lessons on neurocounseling and brain-based interventions.
Contact an enrollment advisor today for more information.