How to Become an Addiction Counselor in Washington

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What is Addiction Counseling?


Are you considering enrolling in an addiction counseling degree program in Washington? While not ideal for everyone, this major can lead to many rewarding careers. It’s particularly appropriate for individuals interested in service professions and who want to positively impact the lives of others.

In Washington, addiction counselors are referred to as substance use disorder professionals. These individuals utilize numerous specialized techniques and offer various services meant to help people who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions. They may also meet with family members and friends of those impacted by the condition, offering information and insight when warranted. The majority of their time, however, is spent working directly with patients as they learn how to manage the many physical and psychological difficulties that accompany substance use, abuse, and dependency and how to avoid relapse when they are recovering.

The daily duties and responsibilities of substance use disorder professionals often vary, in large part because these individuals may work in a variety of different settings. Many operate in outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, as well as their own private practices. Opportunities also exist with family services facilities, hospitals, residential mental health centers, and the government.

While the services offered are often directly impacted by the facility type that employs them, substance use disorder professionals throughout the state are generally responsible for assessing the needs of addiction patients and providing appropriate treatments. They create and review treatment plans, help manage recovery goals, and assist in the development of positive skills and behaviors. Because addicts are often diagnosed with multiple physical and emotional conditions, it’s fairly common for these professionals to coordinate with other medical and mental health providers to facilitate effective care. Substance use disorder professionals may also serve as advocates, creating educational programs and/or events to help others better understand substance use and abuse disorder.

Notably, substance use disorder professionals sometimes specialize in the treatment of patients in certain demographics. Examples include choosing to primarily work with teenagers, adults, veterans, and people with disabilities. This can also impact the services offered, as well as the daily duties performed.


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Online Addiction Counseling Education in Washington


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase by 22% from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the average for all occupations and will result in an additional 43,600 new job openings throughout the nation each year. Most of these opening are expected to result from the need to replace workers transferring to different jobs or exiting the labor force. The need for addiction counselors is also likely to increase as more and more people seek substance abuse and mental health assistance. Additionally, it’s becoming progressively more common for judges to sentence treatment and counseling services rather than jail time for people with addictions and/or mental health concerns, resulting in increased demand for recovery facilities and the mental health experts who work in those facilities.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the sixth largest in Washington. It accounts for $38.9 billion in revenue each year. The state is also one of the largest employers in the nation for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. As of May 2021 the state employed 12,392 of these professionals with an annual mean wage of $56,500. While well above the national median annual wage of $48,520 for workers in this field, it is well below the annual mean wage of $68,740 for all occupations in Washington.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in addiction counseling and related subjects. While academic options exist throughout the nation, with online learning making it easier than ever to enroll, those who plan to seek employment in Washington might want to give preference to schools within the state. These colleges and universities often tailor their programs to ensure licensure requirements can be met. They also understand the local employment market and can help students develop the knowledge and skills coveted most by employers in the area. Additionally, these institutions typically have established relationships with nearby companies and organizations, which can make internships and practicums readily available.

All substance use disorder professionals in Washington must have at least 90 quarter or 60 semester college credits in courses from an approved school. At minimum, half of these credits must be in courses related to the substance use disorder profession and must include specific topics.

While there are some entry-level employment opportunities related to addiction counseling that may not require formal education, most professionals in this field opt to earn associate or bachelor’s degrees. There are also higher education opportunities available at the master’s and doctoral levels, as well as some certificate programs. Prospective students should consider their career goals carefully before finalizing their academic plan.

Online Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)

Associate degrees in addiction counseling generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. The majority of undergraduate programs are comprised of both general liberal arts education and major-specific classes. This provides students with a broad introduction to the field of counseling, as well as higher education as a whole. While curriculums vary, most cover important fundamental concepts related to patient care and treatment. Those enrolled can also expect to learn about relevant theories in counseling, case management, multicultural counseling, psychology, and family and group counseling.

This type of degree is generally sufficient to meet education requirements to become licensed as a substance use disorder professional in Washington. It’s also ideal for students seeking a general introduction to addiction counseling before seeking various entry-level employment opportunities. Some other professions commonly available to graduates include human services assistant, halfway house administrative assistant, and adolescent counselor.

Graduates can also choose to pursue further education by enrolling in other undergraduate degree programs. The knowledge and skills obtained often prepare students for success at higher academic levels. Additionally, many colleges and universities accept up to 60 or 90 semester credit hours in transfer. In many cases, transferring this many credits allows students to enter bachelor’s degree programs as juniors with only two more years of coursework required before graduation.

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. This is another undergraduate program, which are often comprised of both general liberal arts education and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary but often incorporate topics related to group and individual counseling, as well as social research methods. Students are also likely to learn about the diagnosis of chemical or behavioral dependency, psychological evaluations and assessments, and pharmacology and psychopharmacology.

While some colleges and universities offer addiction counseling as a major, many academic institutions do not. As a result, it may be necessary for prospective students to choose related majors such as include psychology, sociology, clinical social work, or mental health counseling. Substance abuse can then be selected as a minor or concentration.

This type of degree is generally sufficient to meet education requirements to become licensed as a substance use disorder professional in Washington. For many employers, it is also considered the professional standard in the field. Graduates tend to have the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a wide variety of employment opportunities in counseling and related occupations. This can lead to more professional security and higher salary potential than is expected for those with less education.

A popular alternative to seeking employment right away is enrolling in a master’s degree program. This is a particularly good option for those desiring to further expand their employment prospects. While application requirements vary, those interested in graduate school should be prepared to meet minimum the grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Examination Record (GRE) score requirements of the gaining school.

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. At this level, general liberal arts classes are no longer included in the curriculum. Some colleges and universities do, however, require prospective students to complete certain undergraduate courses prior to admittance.

Those enrolled typically study only topics related to counseling and substance abuse. Instruction varies, but subjects commonly covered include various counseling approaches and research methods, as well as testing and assessment, human growth and development, addiction prevention and intervention, social and cultural foundations of counseling, psychopathology, and personality disorders. Students may also learn how to build their own private practices. In addition to traditional coursework, field work and/or capstone project presentations are often required prior to graduation.

Graduates will qualify for substance abuse counselor positions and licensure as well as more employment opportunities, and they typically enjoy higher wage potential than those who possess only associate and/or bachelor’s degrees.

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. Curriculums vary, but those enrolled can expect to receive an in-depth assessment of the field. Instruction also often includes a comprehensive assessment of the social and cultural causes behind addiction, epidemiology of drug and substance abuse, history of addiction and human behavior, prevention of chemical abuse in childhood, and group psychotherapy techniques and treatment methods. These programs tend to be highly research-oriented, with students writing and defending dissertations before a board prior to graduation.

This type of degree is generally sufficient to meet education requirements to become licensed as a substance use disorder professional in Washington, although graduates are far more likely to pursue other more prestigious professions in the field. Instead, those with doctoral degrees typically pursue occupations in research, higher education, and management. Graduates tend to qualify for some of the best-paying employment opportunities related to addiction counseling available.

Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Washington


The licensure process for substance use disorder professionals and substance use disorder professional trainees is managed by the Washington State Department of Health. Application may be submitted online or on paper, along with all applicable fees.

Once you have determined that you want to become a substance use disorder professional in Washington, you will need to find an appropriate academic program. As previously mentioned, you must have an associate degree in human services or a related field. Alternatively, you can successfully complete 90 quarter or 60 semester college credits in courses from an approved school. At least 45 quarter or 30 semester credits must be in courses relating to the substance use disorder profession.

Some examples of specific topics required include:

  • Understanding addiction
  • Pharmacological actions of alcohol and other drugs
  • Substance abuse and addiction treatment methods
  • Substance use clinical evaluation
  • Referral and use of community resources
  • Service coordination
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Client, family, and community education
  • Developmental psychology
  • Relapse prevention
  • Professional and ethical responsibilities

Supervision hours are also required but the amount needed varies based on the level of formal education achieved. Those with associate degrees must have 2,500 hours of substance use disorder (SUD) counseling, while bachelor’s degree graduates only need 2,000 of SUD counseling. Applicants with master’s or doctoral degrees must have 1,500 hours of SUD counseling.

Additionally, applicants are required to have 850 hours of counseling experience. This includes 200 hours of clinical evaluation, 100 of which must be face-to-face patient contact, and 600 hours of face-to-face counseling with individuals, groups, families, or couples. The remaining 50 hours must consist of discussion of professional and ethical responsibilities.

All substance use disorder professionals in Washington are also expected to meet the following requirements:

  • List all states where credentials are held
  • Pass the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) level one or higher
  • Answer personal data questions

Notably, the Alcohol Drug Counselor (ADC) and or Advanced Alcohol Drug Counselor (AADC) exams are also accepted for certification. While the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) exam is not available in Washington, individuals licensed in other states where the exam is required may utilize the licensure via reciprocity program.

It’s also worth mentioning the state’s alternative training education requirements. This is for applicants who already possess licensure for another related credential. Licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, advanced social workers, osteopathic physicians, osteopathic physician assistants, physicians, and physician assistants are all eligible. These professionals only need to provide transcripts and topic identification forms for 15 quarter or 10 semester college credits from an approved school in courses specific to alcohol and drug addiction. These individuals will also need only 1,000 hours of SUD counseling.

Once licensed as a substance use disorder professional in Washington, professionals must renew their certification every year on or before their birthdays. The appropriate fee and renewal card should be submitted. Additionally, 40 hours of continuing education (CE) should be completed every two years.

Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates


Degrees in addiction counseling, and counseling in general, can pursue a wide variety of careers in Washington. Opportunities will vary, with the most prestigious jobs reserved for graduates with high-level degrees and proper state credentials. There are also many related professions available. Job specifics, salaries, and responsibilities can differ, but some of the most common employment opportunities include the following.

  • College Counselor
  • Group Counselor or Therapist
  • Health Psychologist
  • Military Counselor
  • Organizational Counselor
  • Residential Counselor
  • Behavioral Therapist
    Behavioral therapists treat patients who have been diagnosed with mental health disorders. Using a variety of behavioral techniques, they work to modify and/or replace negative behaviors with positive ones. These professionals must treat and monitor progress, adjusting treatment plans as needed. It’s common for behavioral therapists to work in clinical environments, patient homes, or community centers. 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 help clients identify and pursue their ideal careers. Using a wide variety of personality, interest, and aptitude assessments, they are able provide personalized advice and guidance. These professionals often conduct relevant research and explain education requirements. They also offer many career-related services, such as resume evaluations and mock interviews. According to PayScale, career counselors make an average base salary of $46,450 per year.
  • Child Counselor
    Child counselors work with and help children who are diagnosed with mental health illnesses such a depression, grief, and/or anxiety. These professionals often help their patients cope with specific life circumstances by creating open, accepting, and friendly environments where it is safe to explore various emotional issues. They may also coordinate with other service providers and/or provide referrals when needed. According to PayScale, child counselors make an average base salary of $35,750 per year.
  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers provide psychosocial evaluations and therapy to individuals who need mental and/or emotional support. These professionals often coordinate patient care interactions in hospitals, mental health clinics, residential nursing facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, and patient homes. They are also often responsible for securing additional resources with third party groups. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $57,600 per year.
  • Grief Counselor
    Grief counselors work with individuals who have experienced the deaths of loved ones, often by helping clients progress through the various stages of grief. These professionals may provide direct or indirect counseling treatments depending on the case, but always encourage healthy and productive ways of coping with loss. According to PayScale, grief counselors make an average base salary of $46,850 per year.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    Mental health counselors provide various services to patients with mental health problems and illnesses. They are typically responsible for diagnosing and treating many conditions, although is fairly common for mental health counselors to specialize in a specific treatment type, such as addiction. These professionals often strive to help people work through and resolve issues by utilizing both one-on-one and group therapy sessions. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $44,250 per year.
  • School Counselor
    School counselors provide a wide variety of services, support, and guidance to high school students. They most frequently serve as approachable resources, helping students achieve their personal, academic, social, and development goals. These professionals are also available to assist during challenging situations, however, and may even meet with teachers and/or parents to discuss concerns. It’s also fairly common for school counselors to make referrals to other support services. According to PayScale, school counselors make an average base salary of $51,350 per year.
  • Sports Psychologist
    Sports psychologists provide help athletes, coaches, and referees manage the various mental and physical demands associated with athletics. They primarily help athletes deal with the consequences of sustaining injuries. In order to provide the best care possible, these professionals must be highly familiar with common challenges related to athletic training and competition. According to PayScale, sports psychologists make an average base salary of $72,250 per year.
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