How to Become an Addiction Counselor in North Carolina

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What is Substance Abuse Counseling?

Are you interested in enrolling in an addiction counseling degree program in North Carolina? The state is home to many colleges and universities that offer this major, which is a popular choice among students who want to provide services and assistance to people struggling with drug and/or alcohol addictions. While the work can be demanding and emotionally taxing, the profession offers relatively good job security and pay potential, as well as numerous opportunities to positively impact the lives of others.

Addiction counselors provide services and assistance to people struggling with addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. They utilize a wide variety of special techniques to help patients manage the physical and psychological difficulties that often accompany dependencies on these substances. It’s also common for these professionals to serve as advocates for addicts by providing information and insight about the condition to family, friends, and community members. It is important to note, however, that addiction counselors cannot prescribe medications of any kind.

The daily duties and responsibilities of addiction counselors can vary quite significantly. Expectations are often different depending on the type of facility, ranging from private practices to halfway houses. In most cases, professionals in this field are responsible for assessing the needs of substance abuse patients and preparing them for treatment. Other common tasks include creating and reviewing treatment plans, managing goals, and helping patients develop more positive skills and behaviors. As alcohol and/or drug addictions often accompany other conditions, these counselors also often coordinate treatment with other medical and mental health professionals.

Addiction counselors are frequently trained to work with patients from all demographics, but some professionals do specialize in the treatment of specific populations, such as teenagers, adults, veterans, or people with disabilities. Employment opportunities vary, but many find work with individual and family service centers, hospitals, or residential substance abuse facilities. While the profession can be rewarding, drawbacks include demanding schedules and the prospect of dealing with emotionally taxing situations.

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Online Addiction Counseling Education in North Carolina

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase by 23% from 2020 to 2030. This is much faster than the average for all occupations and will add an average of 41,000 new jobs openings nationwide each year. Many factors are expected to impact this surge, but a significant contributor is that state legal systems now frequently sentence addiction treatment rather than time in jail, when appropriate. Additionally, qualified professionals are also needed to replace those who retire or transfer to new occupations each year.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the fifth largest in North Carolina. It accounts for $45.3 billion in revenue each year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the state employed 8,330 substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in May 2021. The annual mean wage for professionals in the state was $52,850. Notably, this is just below North Carolina’s annual mean wage of $53,100 as reported for all occupations.

While prospective students can choose from addiction counseling programs offered throughout the nation, those who intend to find work in North Carolina should give preference to colleges and universities located in the state. Online learning makes it easy to enroll from anywhere with internet access, but only local institutions are familiar with important laws and regulations regarding certification and licensure in the state. These schools also know what top employers in the area look for when hiring. Additionally, many colleges and universities in North Carolina work hard to established relationships with nearby counseling professionals and facilities, making it easier for students to obtain internships while enrolled and employment after graduation.

While not all addiction counseling professionals in North Carolina require higher education, most do choose to acquire degrees of some kind. Those interested in becoming Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialists (LCAS) and who plan to manage their own practices, however, must have advanced degrees in the human services field.

Ultimately, the amount of education needed will depend on the type of profession sought. Colleges and universities in the state offer relevant programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Some also have graduate certificate options. Notably, the best-paying addiction counseling jobs in North Carolina are often given to graduates with more education.

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Online Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)

Associate degrees related to addiction counseling generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework, which takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. Students usually enroll in both general and subject-specific classes, resulting in a broad introduction to higher education and the field of counseling. Major instruction often focuses on the fundamentals of patient care and treatment, but other common topics covered include theories of counseling, case management, multicultural counseling, psychology, and family and group counseling.

This type of degree is an ideal option for students who want to receive a general introduction to addiction counseling. They may also want to apply for entry-level employment right away. Graduates typically qualify for positions as human services assistants, halfway house administrative assistances, and adolescent counselors.

Additionally, associate degrees can help prepare students for further study. The credits earned can be transferred to other academic institutions and applied toward bachelor’s degrees. While standards vary, many colleges and universities accept between 60 and 90 hours of coursework from other accredited schools. This often means associate degree graduates are able to enter four-year programs as juniors instead of freshmen.

Admission Requirements for an AS in Addiction Counseling

Online Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in addiction counseling generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately four years to complete. Like associate programs, these are comprised of both general and major-specific classes.

While core curriculums will vary, some of the most common topics covered include:

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

It’s important to realize that there are several majors that allow students to select concentrations related to addiction and substance abuse. In some cases, enrolling in psychology, sociology, clinical social work, or mental health counseling degree programs may suit ultimate career goals best.

Employer expectations vary by position, but this type of degree is generally considered the minimum standard for professionals in the field. Graduates will be able to apply for entry-level jobs and seek state certification but they will not qualify to become licensed, private practitioners in North Carolina. As a result, many choose to enroll in master’s degree programs instead. Prospective graduate students should be prepared to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements, as well as provide Graduate Examination Record (GRE) scores.

Admission Requirements for a BS in Addiction Counseling

Online Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling (MS)

Master’s degrees in addiction counseling generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. Unlike associate and bachelor’s degrees, these programs are primarily comprised of classes focusing solely on topics related directly to the field. Those enrolled typically learn how to utilize various counseling approaches and research methods.

Curriculums vary, but some of the most common topics covered 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

It’s also important to note that many colleges and universities require students to complete field work. Many also expect capstone project presentations prior to graduation.

This is an ideal degree for those seeking the Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (LCAS) credential in North Carolina. Graduates who obtain licensure will be able to manage their own practices and may become Certified Clinical Supervisors (CCS). Notably, individuals with master’s degrees also often have more employment opportunities, enjoy better job security, and earn more money.

Admission Requirements for a MS in Addiction Counseling

Online PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)

Doctorate degrees in addiction counseling generally consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours that take full-time students five to seven years to complete. These programs provide an even more in-depth look at the field, often consisting of comprehensive assessments of the social and cultural causes behind addiction. Students can expect coursework to be highly research-oriented, with written dissertations required prior to graduation.

Topics covered will vary from institution to institution, but some common courses include:

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

While rarely required for most addiction counseling credentials and jobs in North Carolina, this degree can be very beneficial. In particular, individuals who are interested in research and academia will benefit from enrollment. Additionally, graduates often qualify for other leadership jobs in the field, as well as positions as postsecondary educators.

Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in North Carolina

The first step in becoming an addiction counselor in North Carolina is identifying your ultimate career goals. There are many professions available in this field, each with their own expectations and parameters. Determining your professional aspirations now will make it easier to select the most appropriate academic program and credentials needed to be successful.

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All 50 states and the District of Columbia require chemical dependency counselors with private practices to be licensed. There are, however, other certifications available in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Addictions Specialist Professional Practice Board (NCASPPB) oversees the credentialing processes for the following:

  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)
  • Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (LCAS)
  • Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS)
  • Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS)
  • Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (CCJP)

Each credential has its own unique requirements and scope of practice. The Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) credential, for example, is specifically designed for applicants with high school diplomas or equivalent. CADCs are allowed to perform very specific functions including screening, intake, orientation, assessment, treatment planning, counseling, case management, crisis intervention, client education, record keeping, consultations with other professionals, and referrals to treatment. Graduates with advanced degrees in the human services field who also have completed clinical internships as part of completed curricula qualify for the Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (LCAS) credential. These professionals may work independently in their own practices. The LCAS designation also qualifies these individuals to provide supervision to CADCs. An LCAS providing supervision is also considered a Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS).

Those interested in obtaining certification or licensure will need to register with the state. Depending on the credential, registration may require proof of education, supervision agreements, ethical principles of conduct agreements, clinical ethics training, background checks, and associated fees.

The Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS) credential is most appropriate for professionals who are infrequently involved in one-on-one and group counseling with individuals with substance abuse problems. Instead, those with this designation often work with people in high-risk categories and/or in alcohol and drug education settings. Similarly, Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professionals (CCJPs) work in law enforcement, judiciary services, and/or corrections and do not take on clients for counseling. Rather, these professionals strive to reduce the conditions that place individuals at increased risk of developing addictive disorders or diseases and help prevent relapse.

Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates

  • Behavioral Therapist
    Behavioral therapists are responsible for providing treatment to patients with diagnosed mental health disorders. They use various behavioral techniques to modify and replace negative behaviors with positive ones. These professionals also monitor progress and adjust treatment plans as necessary. They work in a wide variety of locations, delivering treatments at patient homes, in the community, and/or in clinical environments. According to PayScale, behavioral therapists make an average base hourly rate of $17.44, which translates to approximately $41,650 per year.
  • Career Counselor
    Career counselors are responsible for helping clients identify and pursue their ideal careers. This process generally entails utilizing various personality, interests, and aptitude assessments prior to providing relevant suggestions. These professionals often research and explain education requirements for intended professions. They also offer a wide variety of career-related services, such as resume evaluations and mock interviews. Additionally, career counselors assist current professionals as they transition into new fields. According to PayScale, career counselors make an average base salary of $46,450 per year.
  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers are responsible for providing psychosocial evaluations and therapy to individuals in need of extra mental and/or emotional support. These professionals coordinate patient care interactions and secure additional resources by negotiating with third party groups. They must be able to work in many different settings, but are often employed by hospitals, mental health clinics, residential nursing facilities, home healthcare companies, and substance abuse treatment centers. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $57,600 per year.
  • Grief Counselor
    Grief counselors are responsible for helping people who have recently lost loved ones or gone through a divorce or other loss to process through their emotions. They are specially trained to address issues that are commonly associated with grief and they encourage healthier and more productive ways to deal with loss through various techniques, guidance, and support. Grief counselors may also provide direct counseling treatments when needed. According to PayScale, grief counselors make an average base salary of $46,850 per year.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    Mental health counselors are responsible for diagnosing and treating patients with mental health problems and illnesses. They are trained to provide various services and treatments, including one-on-one and/or group therapy sessions. Their primary goal is to help patients work through or resolve existing issues. It’s also common for mental health counselors to specialize in one type of treatment, such as addiction. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $44,250 per year.
  • Residential Counselor
    Residential counselors are responsible for providing services and support to residents of live-in facilities. They utilize both individual and group counseling sessions to address various topics and resolve conflicts or crisis situations. It’s also common for them to work with all types of patients, including those with addictions or disabilities, and the elderly or troubled youth. According to PayScale, residential counselors make an average base hourly rate of $14.46, or approximately $39,700 per year.
  • Sports Psychologist
    Sports psychologists are responsible for supporting athletes, coaches, and referees, helping them to deal with various mental and physical demands. They are familiar with the challenges associated with athletic training and competition, as well as the consequences of sustaining injuries. These professionals also provide support to referees and coaches as they cope with the stresses of their positions. According to PayScale, sports psychologists make an average base salary of $72,250 per year.
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