Online Certificate Programs in Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance abuse comes in many forms, such as smoking marijuana and tobacco, inhaling cocaine and meth, shooting heroin, or swallowing Vicodin, alcohol and cough syrup. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly 50% of all high school seniors have used some sort of illicit drug in their lifetimes; furthermore, a whopping 60% of them had consumed alcohol within their last year of school. As illicit substance abuse continues to increase in the United States, so does the need for qualified, dedicated professionals to treat those suffering from addiction..

Typically, people who earn substance abuse counseling certification are those who have dealt with addiction of a close friend or loved one, or struggled with addiction themselves. With the training and education received in a vocational program, the certified substance abuse counselor has a wide variety of employment options. Although mental health centers are perhaps the largest employer, many certificate holders assist other professionals in private practice. Certified substance abuse counselors are common in prisons, where over half of those incarcerated suffer from some form of abuse or dependence.

General Certificate

Many people choose to jump into the field of substance abuse counseling at the certificate level for a number of reasons. First, it is inexpensive — the average cost of obtaining a certificate in substance abuse counseling online is less than $4,000. Second, unlike those seeking bachelor’s or master’s degrees, vocational certification can be achieved in less than two years. Third, in less time than it takes to get a high school diploma, vocational certificate holders can be out in the workforce, helping people overcome their most difficult problems. Fourth, you don’t have to be a straight A student to get into a program, since most only require the following:

  • Basic knowledge of arithmetic, reading and writing
  • High school diploma or general educational development (GED) certificate
  • Letters of recommendation

The typical vocational certification program in substance abuse counseling lasts the equivalent of four semesters, depending on the program. Students should expect to take classes that focus on the culture of substance abuse among a variety of groups; specialized courses explore how drugs affect society, families, and individuals. The human services profession is also typically covered, as are classes on basic counseling techniques and proper case management. Many programs will also require coursework in assessment and treatment planning; upon successful completion of the program, students earn the title of ‘certified substance abuse counselor’.

What’s Next for Substance Abuse Counseling Certificate Holders?

Those who obtain vocational certificates in substance abuse counseling help alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers and even those with eating disorders. They are able to find work with a wide variety of employers, and their specialized skills are needed to fill support roles in treatment centers, clinics and prisons. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for substance abuse counselors at the certificate level is greater than $39,270. And as substance abuse continues to rise in the country, the demand for vocational certificate counselors is expected to grow by nearly 30% through 2020.

Certificate holders also have another option – continuing their education. With the vocational certificate in hand, these students have a leg up over others who join online or classroom-based undergraduate programs; with a bachelor’s degree, graduates have even more employment options available. Many choose to move into management positions, for which the median annual salary hovers around $62,000. Those who continue with their education and seek a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling can provide direct services, work in management and even open a private practice. Counselors with master’s degrees can expect an annual income well in excess of $50,000.