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Careers in Substance Abuse

Field Overview

Over 25 million Americans battle substance abuse and addiction every day. With the recent opioid epidemic, these numbers will only rise. The bad news is that just 10% of these people get treatment. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, similar to bipolar disorder. It requires intense treatment beyond just counseling or group talk therapy.

To cure addiction; medical intervention, education and management by trained professionals is required. Treatment programs must expand and there needs to be more professionals working in communities.

The good news is that addiction is a preventable health problem. There are thousands of Americans who have rewarding careers in addiction counseling, treatment, recovery and prevention. If you have aspirations to help people overcome the disease of addiction than a career in this field may be right for you. Perhaps you or somebody you love have struggled with substance abuse issues. Maybe you just want to make a difference everyday and provide support to your fellow Americans. Regardless of your reason, there are many different types of job opportunities in the addiction field.

Types of Jobs

Substance Abuse Counselor

Addiction counselors are professionals that work with people suffering from substance abuse problems. They provide support for people in treatment or recovery. Counselors will also help the family and friends of the addict.  

Their daily responsibilities include:

  • Assess the individual’s clinical needs
  • Build a custom treatment plan
  • Document the individual’s interactions and progress
  • Pinpoint addiction triggers
  • Address any emotional or behavioral problems

The goal of a substance abuse counselor is to provide rehabilitation. They educate and support the client through recovery and help them prevent relapse.

The average salary for a addiction counselor is $40,000

Educational Requirements:

  • Not all counselor positions require a degree.
  • Some will require degrees in one of the following fields of study: social work, psychology or other disciplines related to health and behavior
  • Many counselors have a BA, MA or PHD

Substance Abuse Nurse

There are three types of addiction treatment nurses:

  • Practitioners
  • Nurses
  • Nursing assistants.

They work in a number of medical settings such as; hospitals, detox centers and treatment facilities. Nurse practitioners prescribe and manage medications for addiction. They are authorized to practice across the United States. Nurses provide treatment for people who overdose and suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms. They do not prescribe medications but can administer them. They often work in detox and treatment facilities to help provide medical support. Nursing assistants provide support to licensed nurses. It is often an entry level position for people looking to get into the field of nursing.

The average salary for a nurse and nurse practitioner is $70,000.

Educational Requirements:

  • 4 year bachelor of science
  • 3 year degree in a nursing program that includes hospital work

Clinical Supervisor

Clinical supervisors work in treatment centers and hospitals. They supervise, manage and provide leadership for all clinical staff members. In addition, they will support the overall operation of the program.

Their daily responsibilities include:

  • Meetings with counselors to discuss patient progress
  • Ensure that treatment complies with federal/state laws
  • Leads/participates in treatment meetings
  • Provides consultation on how to deal with difficult clients
  • Manages personnel issues
  • Interviews and hires new staff
  • Assists the director in inspections, staffing and meetings

Clinical supervisors have experience in social work, psychology, marriage and family therapy. This is not an entry level position and supervisors often start in counseling roles.   

The average salary for a clinical supervisor is $65,000 a year.

Educational requirements:

  • A master’s degree in one of the following: Social work, psychology, family therapy, rehabilitation or education counseling

Prevention Worker

The main problem with drugs in America is the demand for them. Prevention workers help to lower this demand. Prevention specialists coordinate the provision of alcohol and drug prevention activities. They present information to educate individuals in communities about the effects of substance abuse. They work closely with schools, medical professionals and law enforcement agencies. Their goal is to help people recognize the symptoms and triggers of addiction.

Their daily responsibilities include:

  • Creating and executing presentations/workshops
  • Providing group work services in the community or other agencies
  • Help families with intervention for loved ones
  • Assist in the planning and design of new prevention services

Prevention workers must enjoy working in the community and have the patience to deal with people from all economic/social classes. This is truly a hands on position that can promote change in the community.  

Salaries range from $30,000-$40,000

Educational requirements:

  • Vary by job but typically only a high school diploma is required


Addiction is a disease and as such there needs to be more research done on the issue. Scientists are authoritative figures, their knowledge and studies on addiction will help prevent the disease from spreading. There are many jobs in physiology and social psychology that provide support for addiction treatment and awareness. They include:

  • Neuroscientists
  • Imaging specialists
  • Public health researchers
  • Social scientists
  • Health Service researchers

The goal of these jobs is to help understand the following aspects of addiction and treatment:

  • Peoples access to treatment and what the quality is 
  • How prevention and treatment are managed
  • The effects of genetics on the development of addiction
  • Parts of the brain that are altered by substance abuse
  • When medical or behavioral interventions should be conducted
  • New trends, patterns and causes of the disease.

This is perhaps the most important field for the treatment and prevention of addiction. There needs to be more awareness and clinical support for the issue so that the government is forced to be more involved.

It is difficult to give a salary range as many clinicians start their own companies, labs and projects.

Educational requirements:

  • All of the careers mentioned above require a master’s degree or PHD
  • Training to conduct research
  • More information on the exact requirements can be found here


Physicians in the substance abuse field have experience with addiction medicine. They oversee the provision of treatment programs and best practices defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Their daily responsibilities include:

  • Medical review for patients
  • Medication management
  • Help patients understand their addiction and current medical condition
  • Provide patients with the tools to recover and avoid relapse
  • Oversee and ensure programs adhere to best practices

Physicians provide physical and psychiatric care for patients struggling with addiction. For those struggling with addictions to opioids they will administer Methadone treatment.

The average salary is $200,000.

Educational requirements:

  • Undergraduate degree
  • Complete medical school
  • Residency in addiction medicine

Recovery Support

These positions are typically reserved for individuals who have experienced addiction themselves. They act as role models for recovery and represent real-life examples of people who have beat the disease of addiction. Recovery support is typically broken out into three job titles: Recovery coach, Peer support specialist and Peer mentor.

Recovery and peer specialists can be found in treatment centers and support groups. They help people struggling with addiction in the following ways:

  • Provide an introduction to recovery and the steps involved
  • Guide people through the difficult adjustments to a sober life
  • Sets goals and milestones for patients
  • Assist in housing, education and employment opportunities
  • Provide stress management techniques
  • Help grant access to mental health care, child welfare and criminal justice when required

Recovery specialists are advocates for change and often work for pro-bono organizations and groups.

Educational requirements:

  • Vary by job but typically only a high school diploma is required

How To Find The Jobs

The average growth rates for all job sectors in the next 10 years is 7%. That means there will be 7% more jobs in all fields than there currently are today. In the addiction counseling, treatment and recovery field the projected growth rate over the next 10 years is 22%. (Sourced from BLS). This means that there will be a high demand for jobs in this space.

To find these jobs you can do the following:

  • Talk to a career counselor on campus
  • Visit job fairs
  • Speak with your teachers
  • Find treatment centers or support groups in your area and apply directly
  • Use sites like indeed.com, monster.com and workopolis.com

Your help is needed. Get started on a rewarding career today.