How to Become an Addiction Counselor in Alabama

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What is Addiction Counseling?


Are you considering enrolling in an addiction counseling degree in Alabama? If you have an interest in helping people suffering from drug and/or alcohol dependencies, this may be a good fit for you. There are several benefits associated with a career in this field, including sustained job security. Addiction counseling professionals also have numerous opportunities to make a meaningful impact in the lives of their patients.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase by 25% from 2019 to 2029. Compared to the average for all other occupations, this is significantly faster and is expected to add approximately 79,200 new jobs to the market nationwide. One of the primary reasons for this growth is a projected increase in people seeking addiction and mental health counseling services. Additionally, the demand for qualified professionals in this field is likely to rise as more and more states begin sentencing drug offenders to treatment rather than jail time.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the fourth largest in Alabama. It accounts for $17.7 billion in revenue each year. Data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also indicates that pay for this profession is decent. The annual mean wage for local professionals in this field was $47,660, which is higher than the national median wage of $41,950 as reported for all occupations. Notably, however, the annual mean wage for substance abuse, behavior disorder, and mental health counselors in Alabama in 2020 was $43,100.

Alabama currently needs and will continue to require the services of qualified addiction counselors. To meet this need, the state offers numerous academic programs for those interested in pursuing this career.

It’s important to realize that substance abuse counselors in every state must be certified and/or licensed. While most colleges and universities throughout the nation have accredited academic programs, students who plan to work and reside in Alabama after graduation should strongly consider enrolling locally. Schools in the state will be more familiar with Alabama’s specific credentialing requirements. Local institutions also tend to have pre-established relationships with nearby employers and often offer the most geographically relevant classes.


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Addiction Counseling Education in Alabama


Addiction counselors provide support and assistance to people suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. They also help their patients manage the various physical and psychological difficulties often associated with substance dependency. Additionally, these professionals often serve as advocates. It’s common for addiction counselors to work with patients from a wide variety of demographics including teenagers, adults, veterans, and people with disabilities. They can also choose to specialize in the treatment of a specific population type.

You should know that addiction counselors are unable to prescribe medication of any kind. While they can evaluate the mental and physical health of their clients, necessary medication prescriptions must be written by medical professionals.

Responsibilities vary from job to job, but most addiction counselors spend their time evaluating clients, assessing patient readiness for treatment, and assisting in skill and behavior development. A significant portion of their work relates to developing and reviewing treatment plans and goals. In some situations, addiction counselors may also meet and work with the family members of their patients. This is generally in order to provide addiction education and assistance developing coping strategies. It’s also common for these professionals to coordinate with other medical and mental health specialists, especially when developing and managing treatment plans for their patients.

Addiction counselors can work in many different settings. Their most common employers are individual and family service centers, hospitals, and residential substance abuse facilities. The service these professionals provide is important to society and the work is often extremely rewarding, but this profession is also known for being stressful and demanding. Large workloads may also lead to working evenings, nights, and/or weekends.

Most addiction counselors have advanced degrees. While employment in this field may be available to without a degree, individuals with more education have better job prospects. Additionally, most positions do require that candidates have, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree. Addiction counseling programs are available at every academic level, however, so students will have little trouble finding an option that aligns well with their individual academic and professional goals.

Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)

While most addiction counselors choose to earn bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees in addiction counseling are available. Programs at this level may prepare students for some entry-level employment opportunities as human services assistants, halfway house administrative assistants, and adolescent counselors. Alternatively, graduates can transfer the credits they earn to a traditional four-year institution in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree program in addiction counseling.

Addiction counseling associate degrees generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that full-time students can complete within two years. They are typically meant as an introduction to the field, covering the fundamentals of patient treatment.

Every curriculum is different, but required courses may include:

  • Theories of Counseling
  • Case Management
  • Family and Group Counseling
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Psychology

Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)

As previously mentioned, the majority of professionals in this field begin their academic careers by enrolling in bachelor’s degrees. Those who plan to be licensed private practice addiction counselors will, however, need to earn master’s degrees in substance abuse counseling.

Bachelor’s degree graduates have a couple options. They can choose to pursue entry-level employment opportunities, although the most desirable positions are often given to professionals with more education. Having a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field will, however, qualify graduates to apply for admittance into master’s degree programs.

These programs typically consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete.

Every college and university program is different, but required courses may include:

  • Group and Individual Counseling
  • Social Research Methods
  • Diagnosis of Chemical or Behavioral Dependency
  • Psychological Evaluations and Assessments
  • Pharmacology and Psychopharmacology

Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling (MS or MC)

In Alabama, licensed addiction and drug counselors with private practices must have a master’s degree from an accredited institution. Completing this level of education and obtaining the appropriate credentials allows graduates to provide a wide variety of services to their clients. For those who do not plan to manage their own practices, earning a graduate degree in addiction counseling will make them more competitive during job interviews.

Most master’s degrees consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Those enrolled are likely to learn various counseling approaches and research methods. Many programs also expect students to participate in field work, as well write a thesis or capstone project prior to graduate.

Every college and university is different, but required courses may include:

  • Testing and Assessment
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Addiction Prevention and Intervention
  • Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling
  • Psychopathology and Personality Disorders
  • Building Your Ideal Private Practice

PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)

While a doctoral degree is not required to practice as an addiction counselor, earning this degree can open many doors. This level of education is most ideal for licensed professionals. Graduates are typically qualified to apply for top positions in leadership, substance abuse research, and/or education at the postsecondary level.

Most doctoral degrees consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students five to seven years to complete. Programs are typically meant to offer a comprehensive assessment of the social and cultural causes behind addiction.

Expectations vary from institution to institution, but common coursework includes:

  • Epidemiology of Drug and Substance Abuse
  • History of Addiction and Human Behavior
  • Prevention of Chemical Abuse in Childhood
  • Group Psychotherapy Techniques and Treatment Methods

Become an Addiction Counselor in Alabama


It’s important to know that all 50 states and the District of Columbia require chemical dependency counselors in private practice to be licensed. They must have a master’s degree, complete 2,000 to 4,000 of supervised clinical experience, pass a state-issued examination, and complete continuing education every year.

Professionals who do not intend to manage a private practice can seek certification through the Alabama Association of Addiction Counselor Certification Board. Certification is a competency-based credentialing system. The competencies and qualifications required vary depending on the level of certification sought. Options include State Certified Addiction Counselor, National Certified Addiction Counselor I, and National Certified Addiction Counselor II.

Additionally, addiction counselors in Alabama can pursue Alcohol and Drug Counselor certification. This process is completely voluntary and can be initiated by anyone interested in becoming an addiction counselor. The Alabama Association of Addiction Counselors (AAAC) issues two credentials: Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) and Senior Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Certificates are awarded by the Alabama Association of Addiction Counselor Certification Board under the auspices of the ALAAC Board of Directors. Applicants must first complete the certification process and demonstrate adequate experience, skills, knowledge, and competency in chemical abuse counseling.

The Alabama Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association (AADAA) also certifies alcohol and drug counselors, prevention specialists, criminal justice professionals, and clinical supervisors. As a non-profit organization, AADAA is dedicated to ensuring quality services through professional certification, education, and advocacy.

Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates


After earning an addiction counseling degree in Alabama, there are several career pathways to consider. Individuals interested in the counseling field can choose to work with many different demographics.

While salaries and daily duties vary, some of the most common professions include:

  • School Counselor
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Organizational Counselor
  • Sports Psychologist
  • Health Psychologist
  • Career Counselor
  • Genetic Counselor
  • Child Counselor
  • College Counselor
  • Military Counselor
  • Group Counselor or Therapist
  • Residential Counselor
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Grief Counselor
  • Behavioral Therapist
  • School Counselor
    School counselors work with high school students, helping them to achieve their personal, academic, social, and development goals. These professionals often assist students in adjusting to a new school and/or preparing for college. They may also consult with parents, intervene during challenging situations, refer support services, and help students overcome various obstacles. According to PayScale, school counselors make an average base salary of $51,355 per year.
  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers assist individuals who require mental or emotional support by providing various forms of therapy. These professionals may work in many different settings including hospitals, mental health clinics, residential nursing facilities, home healthcare companies, and substance abuse treatment centers. They are generally responsible for coordinating patient care interactions, negotiating with their party groups, communicating with patients, and conducting psychosocial evaluations. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $57,620 per year.
  • Sports Psychologist
    Sports psychologists ensure athletes, coaches, and referees are prepared for the demands of athletic training and competition. These professionals are also responsible for helping athletes deal with the consequences of sustaining an injury. Additionally, they help referees and coaches cope with the various stresses related to their respective roles. According to PayScale, sports psychologists make an average base salary of $72,257 per year.
  • Genetic Counselor
    Genetic counselors provide their patients with assistance and support related to genetic diseases, tumor analysis, and conception. These professionals often work with women and couples to identify possible genetic defects and inform about errors of mutation. They regularly coordinate patient care with specialty physicians and provide advice and support to other medical professionals as needed. According to PayScale, genetic counselors make an average base salary of $74,427 per year.
  • Residential Counselor
    Residential counselors provide various counseling services to residents at live-in facilities. These professionals can take on patients of all kinds, from people with addictions and disabilities to the elderly and trouble youth. They offer a wide range of services, including individual and group counseling. According to PayScale, residential counselors make an average base hourly rate of $14.46, or approximately $39,684 per year.
  • Career Counselor
    Career counselors help their clients identify and pursue the most optimal career paths by utilizing various personality, interest, and aptitude tests. These professionals often provide advice regarding education requirements for jobs. They also provide people advice regarding career changes, background evaluations, and mock interviews. According to PayScale, career counselors make an average base salary of $46,474 per year.
  • Grief Counselor
    Grief counselors, or bereavement counselors, help the families and friends of recently deceased persons work through the various emotions and issues related to death. These professionals usually guide patients through the various stages of grief, focusing on healthy copying mechanisms. They also assist patients in better understanding the underlying feelings and emotions involved with loss. According to PayScale, grief counselors make an average base salary of $46,864 per year.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    Mental health counselors diagnose and treat mental health problems and illnesses. These professionals help their patients work through or resolve existing issues through one-on-one meetings and group sessions. They may specialize in particular areas, such as young adult therapy or addiction. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $44,242 per year.
  • Behavioral Therapist
    Behavioral therapists use numerous behavioral techniques to treat various mental health disorders. These professionals identify appropriate treatment plans for patients, as well as document treatment progress. They generally attempt to help their patients modify and replace behaviors at home, in the community, and in clinical environments. According to PayScale, behavioral therapists make an average base hourly rate of $17.44, which translates to approximately $41,670 per year.

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