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Why the Demand for Substance Abuse Counselors Continues to Climb

As more people seek addiction treatment, counselors will see growing career opportunities.

If you’re thinking about a career as a licensed clinical mental health counselor, your job prospects are promising. In fact, counseling careers are expected to be among the fastest-growing career areas in the U.S. over the next decade.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 25% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.1 That means an additional 79,000 new jobs will be available to professionals in these areas, particularly to those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in counseling.

Why the Demand for Substance Abuse Counselors Continues to Climb

What Is Driving a Need for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselors?

Mental health issues and substance abuse disorders are on the rise in the U.S. The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 51.5 million people experienced a mental health condition in 2019, and approximately 20.4 million people age 12 or older had a substance use disorder related to the abuse of drugs or alcohol.2

Today’s staggering number of people with a substance abuse disorder—worsened by the opioid epidemic—has led to new federal legislation in recent years designed to increase access to mental and behavioral health care. And as more people seek treatment, the need for licensed clinical mental health counselors in all areas of the mental and behavioral health field continues to grow—with an especially high demand for professionals who specialize in substance abuse counseling.

The U.S. Department of Labor points to changes in the criminal justice system as a key reason for the growth in substance abuse counseling careers. Instead of jail time, many states are requiring offenders who are addicted to drugs and alcohol to seek treatment by a substance abuse counselor as part of their sentence.

Military veterans are also contributing to the rise in career opportunities for counseling professionals. With more than one in 10 diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder,3 veterans are in need of preventative counseling and treatment from qualified substance abuse counselors and other licensed clinical mental health professionals.

How Can I Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

If you want to help meet the demand for mental health counselors who can treat people for addiction to drugs, alcohol, or other substances, a career in substance abuse counseling could be a great choice for you. As a substance abuse counselor—which might also have the job title of chemical dependency counselor, addiction counselor, or substance abuse therapist—you can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives while also filling the growing need for mental health professionals.

To become a substance abuse counselor, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling and seek licensure. One option for earning a degree is taking online classes in Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program, which offers an Addiction Counseling specialization. Or, if you’re looking to further your professional development and boost your career, Walden’s School of Lifelong Learning offers individual courses online centering on addiction and substance abuse counseling, including:

An online education is a great way to prepare for or enhance your addiction counseling career. Whether you wish to pursue a master’s degree in mental health or enroll in online courses, Walden can give you the support you need to take your counseling expertise to the next level.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program, as well as individual courses online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Note on Licensure
Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is a requirement for licensure in many states. The MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for licensing exams and to meet the academic licensure requirements of many state counseling boards. Because no graduate program can guarantee licensure upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate agency to determine specific requirements. For more information about licensure, students should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors at, the American Association of State Counseling Boards at, and contact the appropriate licensing body. International students are encouraged to identify and contact their appropriate licensing body. Learn more about professional licensure.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,