For most counseling roles, a graduate degree is essential. However, in the field of addiction counseling, a bachelor’s degree can also qualify you for some roles. The coursework you complete to earn a degree in addiction counseling at either the undergraduate or graduate level can qualify you for a rewarding role assisting individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorders to stop using and get their lives back. Undergraduate coursework will include more general education requirements, while graduate studies focus more on advanced counseling practices and gaining experience through extensive fieldwork.

What Classes Will I Take for a Degree in Addiction Counseling?

Undergraduate Programs in Addiction Counseling

Substance abuse counseling has one of the lowest educational barriers to entering the occupation of any field of counseling. Some roles in substance abuse counseling may even be open to candidates with just a high school diploma who attain certification, but for most roles, you need at least a bachelor’s degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.

The curriculum of a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling starts with introductory coursework in substance abuse prevention and substance abuse counseling principles and practices, along with your college’s general education requirements. As students progress through the curriculum, the subject matter becomes more complex and more interesting. Students learn about more general counseling topics through coursework in abnormal behavior, crisis management, cultural competence, pharmacology and stress management clinical and community settings.

Some coursework addresses the specifics of alcoholism or of drugs and behavior. Students become familiar with theories and fundamental skills in addiction counseling for individuals, families and groups. They learn about diagnosis, treatment planning, maintenance strategies and case management practices used in this particular area of counseling. An understanding of the disorders that often co-occur with addiction is crucial, as is real-world experience gained through internships.

In some work settings, a bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling or substance abuse counseling can prepare you for roles such as case manager, crisis counselor, substance abuse counselor and probation or parole officer, according to U.S. News & World Report.

What Classes Will I Take for a Degree in Addiction Counseling?

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Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

Although it might not be required for entry-level roles, a master’s degree in addiction counseling is the most popular level of education in this career field. Among substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, 30 percent reported having a master’s degree, compared to 19 percent with a bachelor’s degree and 16 percent with a professional degree. Going to graduate school for addiction counseling expands your career opportunities, allowing you to provide more extensive services as a licensed professional counselor. You need a graduate degree, 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised experience and a license if you wish to establish your own private practice, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Unlike undergraduate programs, master’s degree programs in addiction counseling can attain accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Accredited programs must meet high standards, including covering the following subjects:

  • Professional counseling orientation and ethical practice
  • Social and cultural diversity
  • Human growth and development
  • Career development
  • Counseling and helping relationships
  • Group counseling and group work
  • Assessment and testing
  • Research and program evaluation

For programs in addiction counseling or substance abuse counseling specifically, CACREP has additional specialized requirements. Because substance abuse is a unique area of counseling, coursework must cover all of the different models and theories of addiction as they relate to substance abuse but also to behavioral addictions, like gambling. There are certain psychological assessments that are unique to the field of addiction counseling that future counselors must be familiar with as well as symptoms of substance intoxication and withdrawal that they should be able to recognize. Substance abuse counselors must have a thorough understanding of the specific physical, neurological, psychological, social and behavioral effects that substances can have on users.

Addiction doesn’t develop in a vacuum, which means that counselors need to understand the full extent of factors that contribute to substance abuse, including what factors increase the risk of substance use disorders. Recovery doesn’t occur in a vacuum, either. Counseling programs must cover coursework in the potential roles of family, social networks, spirituality, vocation, community programs and appropriately indicated psychopharmacological medications in an addiction treatment and recovery plan. Because there are often psychological or medical concerns that go along with substance use, counselors in this field must be familiar with these common co-occurring disorders. By the time they graduate, students of a master’s degree program addiction counseling should understand the process of diagnosing substance use disorders using common systems such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and be able to develop be able to develop a treatment plan and intervention strategies for individuals.

To acquire CACREP accreditation, a master’s degree program must include 60 hours of graduate study. Non-accredited programs may require just 30 credits, but getting a license with a degree from an unaccredited program is more complicated.

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