According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug abuse and addiction continues to increase every year. Whether it’s Vicodin, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, OxyContin, methamphetamine, tobacco or heroin, more than 20 million Americans suffer from substance abuse and dependency. Strikingly, young adults in their late teens and early twenties are responsible for the the most drug use year after year; in fact, among high school seniors, nearly 50% self-report that they had used an illicit drug during their lifetime. Sadly, of the millions who require treatment for substance abuse and addiction, only about 1 percent actually receive it.
Those who seek to help this ever-increasing population know they need to get training and education through one of the many substance abuse counseling degree programs. One of the most popular degrees is the bachelor’s, which has the benefit of being completed in four years or less while still providing a wider range of opportunities than a vocational certificate. With a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling, a graduate can find work in mental health and substance abuse facilities, prisons, and private practices. Joining a vocation and not just the workforce, substance abuse counselors heal the suffering and enjoy productive, fulfilling employment.
Why a Bachelor’s Degree?
The old adage, “education pays,” has never been more true than today. During the most recent recession, the people who struggled the most to find work were those with the least education. In 2012, those with a high school diploma had an unemployment rate of 12.4% — nearly twice the national average. Notably, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people with a bachelor’s degree recorded an unemployment rate of 3.5%. Clearly, the four (or less) years it takes to get a bachelor’s degree is a good investment.
Inside a Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor’s Degree Program
A typical bachelor’s program in substance abuse counseling takes four years (or eight semesters) to complete. Because a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) is typically awarded, students will take two years of general education courses; common Gen Ed courses include composition, literature, math, history, and natural sciences. Classes within the major typically include pharmacology, assessment, diagnosis, psychology, and a number of different courses that cover various counseling techniques. Of course, most programs also require course work relating to specific addictions, such as alcohol and chemical dependency.
Most substance abuse programs also have high expectations of their graduates. Some require at least a 2.0 GPA prior to graduation. Others mandate excellent work in an internship or practicum. Furthermore, since so many students enter these counseling programs because of a history of abuse or addiction, some schools even require two years of demonstrated sobriety prior to graduation.
What’s Next for Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor's Degree Holders?
According to the BLS, the average substance abuse counselor with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn a median salary of $41,870. Graduates can also expect plenty of jobs to be available, since it is projected total employment will continue to grow by 22% through to 2024. Working as counselors and/or managers in substance abuse clinics, private practices, and prisons, people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling can expect to have rewarding and fulfilling careers helping those suffering from addiction.
Nonetheless, many graduates of bachelor’s programs choose to continue their education and obtain a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling. Although delaying their entrance to the workforce, these students know that with an additional two years of schooling, they will graduate with a degree that would give them even more employment opportunities; not only are these highly-trained counselors sought after to fill management roles in substance abuse and mental health centers, they are also frequently asked to join private practices as independent counselors.