How Much Can You Earn as an Addiction Counselor?

This article breaks down the average salary based on education, experience, industry and location. Read on, and consider how you might increase your earning potential.
family at table
Counseling is a way of giving back, and bringing hope and healing to individuals, families and communities.

There are other careers that pay more, but few professions that are more rewarding than being an addiction counselor. And while you may not get rich with a job in substance abuse counseling, you can make a good living. Addiction counseling is a fast-growing field with an excellent long-term job outlook and many opportunities to grow your earning potential with the right training and education. In this article, we'll take a look at how much you can expect to earn as an addiction counselor, salary ranges for different types of jobs and ways that you can maximize your earning potential. 

Jobs in Substance Abuse Counseling

Before we explore the typical salary for a substance abuse counselor, it's important to think about what's motivating you to become a substance abuse counselor—or what is now more appropriately known as a substance use disorder counselor.

For most people, the satisfaction that comes from a profession in substance abuse counseling is more personal than financial. If you or a loved one has experienced drug or alcohol addiction, you know that sobriety is a life-changing experience. For many counselors, their work is a way of giving back, and bringing hope and healing to individuals, families and communities. That being said, addiction counseling is also a very practical career choice. 

With 22% job growth projected over the next decade, substance abuse counseling is among the fastest growing careers in the nation.1 It's a job that you can do regardless of where you live, as long as you are licensed or certified to practice in that state. It also gives you the opportunity to work in many different types of treatment settings, and develop skills that you can apply to a wide range of careers. 

Wondering what you need to start a career in counseling? Learn more about how to become a substance abuse counselor.

Substance abuse counselor is ranked #1 in Best Social Services Jobs and #35 in 100 Best Jobs by U.S. News and World Report. Career rankings are based on factors including median salary, unemployment rate, growth and future job prospects.2

What Factors Affect Your Counseling Salary?

The salary for a substance abuse counselor depends on a variety of factors, including the level of education you attain, where you practice counseling and the type of treatment setting in which you work. Here are points to keep in mind as you consider ways to increase your salary in the field of drug and alcohol counseling.

Have you earned a master's degree in addiction counseling?

The greater your level of education, the higher your counseling salary is likely to be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master's degree graduates (in any field) can expect to earn approximately $12,000 more in annual salary than individuals with a bachelor's degree. A master's degree in addiction counseling will also open the door to a variety of more advanced career opportunities—such as treating co-occurring mental health disorders. Learn more about the value of earning your master's degree in addiction counseling.

Where do you practice substance abuse counseling?

Where you work as a substance abuse counselor can also have a significant impact on your counseling salary. While there is a relatively high demand for counselors throughout the United States, some areas need more counselors than others, depending on factors such as population, crime, community resources, and available funding. If you intend to open your own practice, where you work also affects requirements for licensing and certification, continuing education and insurance. Learn more about licensure and certification for addiction counseling.

What industry do you work in?

The type of treatment setting is another factor that will impact the salary for a substance abuse counselor. For example, you might earn a higher salary on average if you work at a hospital compared to a local substance abuse clinic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, counselors who work for government agencies and in hospitals tend to earn the most money.

"In addition to expanding my clinical skillset and professional competency, my master's degree from Hazelden Betty Ford increased my advancement potential at the organization for which I work. In fact, several months after graduation, I was promoted to Program Director, a position for which I would not have been eligible without the degree.”

—Scott Vandenburg, 2017 graduate Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling: Integrated Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorders and program director

Salary for a Substance Abuse Counselor

The average annual salary for a counselor in the field of substance abuse and mental health treatment is $44,630. There's a significant range in counseling salaries: the lowest 10 percent of substance abuse counselors earned less than $28,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,990.

Below we'll explore drug and alcohol counseling salary averages by industry, location and experience level. As there is no information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics specific to salaries by degree level, please note that all average salaries include both bachelor's degree and master's degree graduates.

Substance abuse counseling salary by industry

Here is the median salary of a substance abuse counselor, including bachelor's and master's degree graduates, for top industries in the field:

  • Government: $51,690
  • Hospitals: $48,310
  • Individual and family services: $44,120
  • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers: $43,120
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities: $38,1903

Substance abuse counseling salary by location

These are the top five paying states for substance abuse and mental health counselors (including both bachelor's and master's degree graduates):

  • Utah: $66,330
  • Alaska: $62,920
  • District of Columbia: $59,850
  • Oregon: $59,390
  • New Jersey: $58,4104

Substance abuse counseling salary by experience level

Here is the average salary for a Licensed Addiction Counselor, including both bachelor's and master's degree graduates, based on level of experience in the field:

  • Entry-level (less than 1 year of experience): $39,328
  • Early career (1-4 years of experience): $40,947 
  • Mid-career (5-9 years of experience): $44,781 
  • Experienced (10-19 years of experience): $47,463 
  • Late career (20 years and higher): $47,5015

With a master's degree, there are also plenty of opportunities to advance in the field, and increase your salary potential in the process. For example, many who earn a master's degree in counseling go on to work as clinical supervisors or program directors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for medical and health services managers is $100,980 per year.6

Earn your master's degree in addiction counseling from the nation's leading nonprofit addiction treatment center. The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies offers online and on-site programs you can pursue as a full- or part-time student, depending on your preference. 

Our master's degree programs integrate coursework and training in mental health and co-occurring disorders and emphasize hands-on clinical experience. Our graduates are in demand in all areas of addiction prevention, treatment and recovery, and are employed in jobs in substance abuse counseling across the nation. 

Learn more about the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies

View the Master's in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice (on-campus program)

View the Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling: Integrated Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorders (online program)

"The experience [of earning my master's degree at Hazelden Betty Ford] not only helped me to accrue the necessary clinical hours for licensure, but also accelerated my clinical skill set far beyond that of a graduate from a more traditional addiction science program. The degree also leaves one dual-licensure eligible to perform both substance abuse disorder work and mental health counseling, bettering the odds of a higher starting salary.”

—Jason Kays, 2017 graduate Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice and Primary Therapist at Gray Wolf Ranch 

Find more information about jobs in drug and alcohol counseling and how to become a substance abuse counselor

  • Looking for more ways to increase your counseling salary? Here are tips for taking the next step as a counseling professional. How to Advance in Your Addiction Counseling Career.
  • One of the benefits of pursuing a job in substance abuse counseling is the variety of professional pathways you can take. Here we take a closer look at the different types of careers in addiction counseling, where counselors are employed, and more. Career Paths for Drug and Alcohol Counselors
  • Are you currently an undergraduate student thinking about a career in addiction counseling? Here you'll find tips for getting started, including information about next steps in education and more. Getting Started on Your Career in Addiction Counseling: Tips for Undergraduate Students.

  1. U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm
  2. U.S. News & World Report: https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/substance-abuse-counselor
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211018.htm#st
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211018.htm#st
  5. Payscale: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Licensed_Addiction_Counselor_(LAC)/Salary
  6. U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm