How to Become an Addiction Counselor in Illinois

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What is Addiction Counseling?


An addiction counselor is a mental health professional who has a license to work with those who suffer with substance abuse disorder, also known as addiction. They tend to work in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers under a variety of license types. Some are licensed to only work with groups of patients as an educator or community counselor. However, those with a master’s level degree can work with patients on a one-on-one basis either in a clinic or a private practice.

Addiction counselors will find that their clients range in age from adolescence to geriatrics. The majority are likely between 18 and 35, though the entire addiction spectrum is rapidly changing in light of over prescribed opioids and other new drugs. These new drugs are more addictive and dangerous, so even casual users may quickly spiral into addiction, or worse.

Addiction counseling professionals often work with groups. They might conduct group counseling sessions that focus on specific demographics or patients who have suffered similar traumas. Since addiction is often thought of as a family disease, counselors also may delve into family therapy.


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Addiction Counseling Education in Illinois


Historically, most of Illinois was spared many of the problems that plagued Chicago. Heroin and other hard drugs rarely made their way past the inner ring of suburbs. However, all that has changed. Highly addictive opioids have flooded Illinois' suburban and rural areas, creating new addicts, overdoses, and other problems. This is because deadly drugs were readily available, provided that one could find a doctor eager to prescribe the narcotics. Needless to say, doctors spent several years writing narcotic prescriptions for a variety of pains.

On top of this, methamphetamine began surging in popularity due to the fact that it was relatively easy to manufacture. Methamphetamine rings only needed to secure a secluded house or trailer in which to create a laboratory. Once they had the primary ingredients, a meth lab could generate a highly profitable business.

Sadly, these problems are persisting and perhaps worsening in light of new sources of high-potency opioids and a new form of methamphetamine that makes the old stuff look like child's play. If these developments weren't bad enough, the Mexican drug cartels are now involved in the mass production and distribution of fentanyl, a deadly opioid, and the new form of methamphetamine.

To address these problems, Illinois' colleges and universities have risen to the task of training addiction counseling professionals. While students can earn a CADC license with only a high school diploma, Illinois' community colleges can help them earn an associate addiction counseling degree that will count toward licensure. This initial license, and the attendant experience earned, will only help when students proceed into an Illinois university and a bachelor’s addiction counseling degree. Finally, Illinois' universities have many offerings for mental health professionals. Students can pursue a master’s addiction counseling degree, a master of social work, a master of clinical psychology, or even a doctorate.

Thus, while Illinois has problems with substance abuse disorder, the state's higher education institutions are rising to meet the challenge. Furthermore, the state's licensing boards have opened the doors for professionals at all educational levels who wish to not only join a noble profession, but who also desire to make a real difference in Illinois' communities.

Addiction counseling professionals are in a unique position in the mental health field. This is because they have the advantage of choice when it comes to degrees. Illinois addiction counselors can earn state licensure with as little as a high school diploma. However, more will choose to dive deeper into the subject with an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s level degree. Some may even choose a PhD.

While Illinois addiction counseling professionals can work with substance abuse patients with nearly any degree, plus a license, professionals gain more responsibility and earnings with each subsequent degree. Once an addiction counselor earns a master’s degree, they can work independently in private practice or one-on-one with patients in a clinic or hospital setting.

Students who are eager to pursue this esteemed profession should discuss their licensure options with an academic advisor. Every Illinois addiction counseling degree program should be aware of the state's licensure requirements and be structured to help students earn those credentials.

Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling(AS)

In Illinois, someone with an associate addiction counseling degree can achieve a CADC license and work in the field of addiction counseling. This degree level will be helpful in many respects. In the short-term, an associate addiction counseling degree will help candidates reduce the time and experience needed to earn an Illinois CADC licensed. In the long-term, the degree will serve as a support for later training and success.

An associate addiction counseling degree is also beneficial from an academic standpoint. The degree itself requires students to complete the core curriculum for a bachelor’s degree. Those who desire a full undergraduate degree can focus solely on addiction counseling when they chose to enroll in a four-year institution. Then community colleges can offer a terrific, affordable education. Not only do they tend to have smaller class sizes than larger universities, but their instructors are generally highly qualified professionals who love teaching and maximizing student outcomes. This all comes at a reduced per-credit price.

Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)

A bachelor’s degree is the standard that most employers seek when hiring aspiring addiction counseling professionals. In Illinois, addiction counselors can earn a CADC license with only a four-year degree. Employers will value this because those with a four-year degree have already shown a long-standing dedication to the field. They may also have completed internships, special research projects, and more. Furthermore, the Illinois Board will reduce the amount of supervised time needed to complete licensure requirements after you receive a bachelor’s degree.

In the course of a four-year addiction counseling degree, students should be able to become more well-rounded in their studies. For instance, if they are majoring in addiction counseling, they could pursue a minor concentration in a field such as sociology, social work, or psychology. They will also be laying a foundation for later academic success. Undergraduate students should go ahead and investigate master’s addiction counseling degree programs so that they can be sure that their transcripts meet those requirements and so that they'll have a good idea of which programs they prefer.

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

With a master’s addiction counseling degree, students can earn top Illinois counseling credentials and pursue a self-directed career. This is the academic degree that the Illinois Board requires for those who desire to work one-on-one with addicts in a private practice. They can also work one-on-one with patients in a rehabilitation clinic or other similar setting. The ability to do either, or both, is a terrific boon to addiction counseling professionals.

In fact, there are a few degree options that enable counselors to work in private practice with substance abuse disorder clients. One option is a master of social work degree which has the added benefit of being a degree that Illinois state human services agencies hold in high esteem. Students can also earn a master’s clinical psychology degree, which is perhaps a more traditional counseling degree. Finally, Illinois colleges and universities offer a master’s addiction counseling degree that focuses on substance abuse disorder exclusively. Students should investigate each option and weigh each in light of their long-term goals.

PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)

At the top of the academic heap lie the PhD holders. These mental health professionals are highly esteemed in the mental health community, as well as the broader civilian community. With a doctorate in addiction counseling, professionals can work one-on-one with patients in their private practices. Many PhDs even start their own drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics since their degree lends them an air of added respectability and authority.

In private practice, counselors at the PhD level have the honor of calling themselves psychologists, charging more per hour, and perhaps gaining higher esteem in the mental health community. It may be easier to publish articles with doctorate level credentials, and PhDs tend to have an easier time landing teaching positions. That is, they might choose to teach in an Illinois college or university, or they could conduct seminars for other addiction counseling professionals. Though counselors are urged to confirm with their licensing board, many states will count teaching hours toward one's CEUs that count towards licensure renewal.

Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Illinois


Many people are curious how to become an addiction counselor in Illinois. This is because the problem of drug addiction has become so widespread. The methamphetamine and opioid crises have focused everyone's consciousness on the real devastation of substance abuse disorder. Both drugs were able to introduce the suburbs and even rural areas to hardcore drug use and addiction. At least in part, the opioid crisis was fueled by doctors and pharmaceutical companies who over-prescribed extremely potent and addictive pain medications.

As for methamphetamine, that drug caught fire when it was discovered how easily it could be produced. Meth labs sprung up in small towns from coast to coast. Now, the drug's manufacturing is primarily located in Mexico, where new and even more potent forms have been developed. Where severe meth-related brain injury used to develop over the course of months and years, now the same devastation is wrought in a few days.

Drug addiction counseling degrees have likewise risen to address the problem. However, it can take more than an addiction counseling degree to become the most effective counselor. This is because the profession is inherently personal and emotional. Some may wish to solve the problem, yet not have the requisite manner to work with affected individuals. Others may be too sensitive to handle the devastation that alcohol and drugs can create.

Prospective addiction counseling professionals need to be certain that they have the sort of compassion, empathy, and objective nature that the counseling profession requires. They need to have strong personal boundaries, while also being able to convey the care and acceptance addicts need. These qualities can be developed over time, but future addiction counselors should be certain that they have a solid foundation.

Once these personal matters are settled and a person still wants to become an addiction counselor in Illinois, they need a degree. The state of Illinois confers licensure to people at all stages of academic accomplishment. Those with a high school diploma can start work in a rehabilitation center and eventually gain licensure. However, the ideal would be to complete a master’s addiction counseling degree and work as an independent counselor. Professionals might also consider a master of social work or a master’s clinical psychology diploma, both of which allow the same amount of professional latitude but each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Careers for Addiction Counselor Graduates


  • School Counselor
    These mental health professionals hold teaching certificates through the Illinois school board. Their job is to work with students in their licensed age group who need help overcoming problems at home or with other students. School counselors typically hold an MEd degree. For those who choose this profession, possible later career moves can include work in school administration or the classroom.
  • Clinical Social Worker
    To become a clinical social worker, professionals need to earn a master of social work degree. Once they have the MSW, they need to pass an examination and complete a period of supervised work prior to earning an Illinois license. After this, they can become Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW). LCSWs can work as independent mental health counselors and see patients one-on-one, including those who suffer with substance abuse disorder.
  • Adult and Geriatric Counselor
    These mental health professionals work exclusively with older adults, including the elderly. These patients may be in a period of reflection where they wish to resolve issues from the past. They may also be facing issues related to illness and mortality. These counselors might work in private practice but might also work with or through long-term care facilities.
  • Career Counselor
    These counselors don't generally need to hold an Illinois state license to work as counselors. However, most of them do have a master’s career counseling degree. For their work, career counselors most often work for an Illinois college or university where they help students blaze the best path towards their goals. They also have administrative duties such as organizing career fairs and other helpful career-oriented events.
  • Sports Psychologist
    For those who are curious about the human condition but also love sports, this might be the perfect career. Sports psychologists work with athletes to help them perform at optimal levels. They might use a typical counseling environment to achieve these goals, such as a quiet office with a comfy couch. However, others apply their expertise on the field where they coach athletes to achieve their best.
  • Group Counselor or Therapist
    These counseling professionals work with groups of people who may or may not share the same sort of problem. The counselor typically acts as a facilitator of the discussion where members discuss the trials and tribulations of their lives. These groups might be comprised of opioid addicts, for instance, who are able to use group therapy as a means for delving deeper into their issues than is possible in a 12-step setting.
  • Genetic Counselor
    Couples who are concerned about passing along genetic diseases to their offspring employ genetic counselors to help them determine their overall risk. Genetic counselors often rely on each member's family history to help make their determinations. However, genetic technology is advancing so rapidly that more precise methods may be evolving.
  • College Counselor
    College admissions is a very competitive matter for many people, and college counselors are there to help. These education professionals work with students and their families to craft the best possible admissions materials. They may also advise students to undertake specific extra-curricular activities to help them stand out to college admissions counselors.

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