Becoming a Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

English and Spanish are available if you select the option to speak with a national representative. Currently, the 435748 (HELP4U) text messaging service is only available in English.

In 2020, the Helpline received 833,598 calls. This is a 27 percent increase from 2019, when the Helpline received a total of 656,953 calls for the year.

The referral service is free of charge. If you have no insurance or are underinsured, we will refer you to your state office, which is responsible for state-funded treatment programs. In addition, we can often refer you to facilities that charge on a sliding fee scale or accept Medicare or Medicaid. If you have health insurance, you are encouraged to contact your insurer for a list of participating health care providers and facilities.

The service is confidential. We will not ask you for any personal information. We may ask for your zip code or other pertinent geographic information in order to track calls being routed to other offices or to accurately identify the local resources appropriate to your needs.

No, we do not provide counseling. Trained information specialists answer calls, transfer callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states, and connect them with local assistance and support.

How to Become an Addiction Counselor
  1. STEP 1: Review Counseling Licensure or Certification Requirements for Your State. …
  2. STEP 2: Earn a Master’s Degree in Addiction Counseling. …
  3. STEP 3: Complete Exams and Supervised Field Experiences. …
  4. STEP 4: Apply for Licensure or Certification in Your State. …
  5. STEP 5: Continue Your Education.

Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Behavioral Disorder Counselors Career Video

What does a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor do?

A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor diagnoses and treats conditions involving addiction and behavioral outcomes. Here are some of the specific duties a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor might fulfill:

What is a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor?

A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor is a mental health professional who cares for patients in the context of addiction counseling and behavioral disorders. They often work for healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics and inpatient facilities, and they might work independently in private practice as well. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are often experts in diagnosing and treating these conditions using therapeutic techniques.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor skills

Here are some skills that may be important to succeed as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor:


Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors often work with patients who are in the midst of challenging experiences, whose behavior may reflect those struggles. Counselors in this position must exercise patience in order to provide them with the best possible care.


Verbal and written communication are integral to substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors success. They must communicate clearly with other healthcare professionals as well as patients and their families in a clinical setting. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors also usually perform best when they practice active listening as part of their repertoire of skills.


Warmth, compassion and empathy can help a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor succeed by allowing them to develop trusting relationships with their clients. Empathy can also help these professionals consider the best interests of their clients and behave in ways that will be of benefit to them.


Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors can often benefit from strong organizational skills. They might leverage these skills in their record-keeping and scheduling activities as well as keeping track of patient information during counseling sessions.

Mental health expertise

Most successful substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are experts in their field of practice. They are often highly educated and have experience with the types of conditions their patients are experiencing.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor work environment

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors often work in a normal mental health care environment such as a hospital or clinic. They often work individually with patients and in groups, and rely heavily on their communicative skills throughout the course of their day. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors might work regular hours during business days or they might work variable hours or evenings depending on the type of facility they work for. Private practice counselors often work in an office of their own choosing, and might set their own hours as well.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor salary

Salary and career search outcomes are likely to vary depending on factors such as location, facility type and provider specialty. Be sure to research specific information for the location where you plan to work as part of your career search preparation process.

How to become a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor

If a career as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor sounds like a good fit for you, here are some steps you can use:

1. Finish your diploma

As specialized healthcare providers, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors must usually have at least a bachelors degree for most jobs. This means youll probably also need a high school diploma or equivalent in order to be accepted to most postsecondary institutions. If you are still in high school, complete your studies as successfully as possible with attention to classes that are likely to help you succeed in the mental health field.

If you need an alternative credential, try researching options for both online and in-person courses and testing that may provide you with the certification you need. Be sure to determine what type of credential is required for admission into the college or university of your choice.

2. Earn a bachelors degree

Next, earn a bachelors degree in the concentration of your choosing. Be sure to research specific degree offerings when choosing which college or university to attend. Certain professional credentials and licenses may be connected to particular types of degrees, so incorporate this information into your decision-making process as well. Be sure to consider factors like tuition, location and financial aid.

3. Consider graduate school

Some successful substance abuse and behavioral health counselors earn a masters degree, and some jobs may require it. Consider earning a graduate degree in your field of specialty if it makes sense for your situation and for your personal and career goals.

4. Explore job openings

When you have earned the appropriate degree and associated licensure, and even when you are near completing your education, research openings for jobs you want. Pay attention to the requirements for roles that interest you as well as preferred qualifications, and consider earning any additional certifications that may support your candidacy. Pay close attention to keywords in each listing because these may help you prepare your application materials.

5. Prepare your cover letter and resume

Using the information you find in listings for open jobs, develop a resume and cover letter that highlight your most compelling qualifications. Be sure to use keywords from each position you apply for, because many employers use software technology to screen applications before they are seen by a hiring manager. Try to tailor your materials to each position you apply for to show interest in the role and attention to detail.

6. Interview successfully

When your application materials are successful, you may be invited to interview for roles as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. You might prepare by researching possible interview questions and brainstorming possible answers ahead of time. You might also ask a trusted friend or mentor to help you by holding a mock interview and providing feedback on your responses. Be sure to follow up appropriately with a message of thanks in most situations.

7. Develop and grow

Before and during your first entry level position, continue to develop and grow your skill as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. Consider joining professional organizations and associations that might provide opportunities for additional training and networking. Seek out professional mentorship if and when you can, and watch for opportunities to advance with your employer or another if it is reasonable to do so.


How do I get my CAC in Colorado?

For the CAC-I Level

1000 hours of clinically supervised work experience completed in a minimum of six months. You will need experience in at least 3 of the following: Orientation, Admin Intake, Admin discharge, Service coordination, Case documentation and Client, Family or Community Education.

How do I become a CAC in GA?

CAC Level One Eligibility Requirements

Minimum High School diploma or Equivalency (G.E.D.) 220 hours of clinical supervision by a GACA CCS. Minimum 24 of these hours must be one-on-one supervision, with minimum 2 hours of individual supervision in each of the 8 counselor skill groups.

What is the job description of a substance abuse counselor?

Job Summary:

The Substance Abuse Counselor will provide counsel and support to patients suffering from drug or alcohol dependency, educate families in the best ways to help in the recovery process, and work with both inpatient clients and those participating in outpatient programs.

How long does it take to become a drug counselor in California?

Requirements for applying for the CADC-I Credential: 315 hours approved education. 255 hour field practicum. Passing score on the ICRC written exam.

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