Substance Abuse Counselor Certification in Massachusetts - MA | How to Become

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Massachusetts

Becoming a substance abuse counselor is no walk in the park. But it certainly supports a noble cause, and it ties to an issue that the state of Massachusetts takes very seriously. In fact, new a law was passed in August 2014 to help provide better care and insurance coverage for people battling a drug addiction. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stated that, "Massachusetts [is] on the leading edge of access to addiction treatment and recovery services."

Standing on the front lines of that leading edge are the Commonwealth's nearly 2,000 licensed substance abuse counselors and addiction therapists. Working in various settings, from hospitals and mental health centers, to addiction treatment and detox facilities, substance abuse counselors play a crucial role in drug and alcohol addiction treatment and rehabilitation. They meet with patients one-on-one and in groups, and play a huge role in assessing and advising patients. Substance abuse counselors also implement targeted treatment plans aimed at cultivating the skills and behaviors necessary for full recovery. They often work alongside a team that can include nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, and physicians.

Along with patience, compassion and commitment, substance abuse counseling requires a large amount of training in the physiological and psychological components of chemical dependency. To become a substance abuse counselor in Massachusetts you also must be licensed through the Commonwealth's Department of Public Health in association with the Massachusetts Board of Substance Abuse Counselor Certification (MBSACC).

Educational Requirements for Substance Abuse Counselors in Massachusetts

The licensing protocol to gain substance abuse counselor certification in Massachusetts is fairly rigorous. The bare minimum requirements to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor assistant are:

  • A full year of work experience -- the equivalent of 2,000 hours
  • A minimum of 50 hours of training in addiction and substance abuse treatment
  • A high school diploma
  • Pass a written exam

To attain the first level of full licensure as a certified alcohol and drug counselor, you must pass an MBSACC exam after completing a bachelor's degree program that includes:

  • 300 hours of practical training in the field
  • 270 hours of education related to substance abuse counseling
  • 4,000 hours of supervised work experience.

The highest level of licensure requires a master's or doctoral in behavioral sciences. There are also targeted certificate programs in alcohol and substance abuse counseling, which take into account the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's licensing requirements, although applicants without a BA must show that they've completed a full 6,000 hours of supervised work experience.

Benefits of Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor in Massachusetts

In a 2013 report by the DC-based non-profit health policy organization, Trust for America's Health, Massachusetts received a high 9 out of 10 rating for its efforts to curb prescription drug abuse. This is yet another indication of the Commonwealth's determination to remain on that leading edge of substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. That bodes well for those interested in pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling in Massachusetts.

Nationally, the numbers look good for those entering the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a far above average increase of 31% in jobs from 2012-2022, due in large part to new federal legislation that requires health insurance to cover treatment for substance abuse and addiction. The most recent BLS stats show that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a nationwide average annual salary of $41, 090, or $19.75 per hour, as of May 2013. In Massachusetts, those numbers were significantly better: $44,030 for average annual salary, and $20.45 per hour. Sadly, the number of drug-related deaths in Massachusetts has risen by 47% since 1999, according to Trust for America's Health. That's just one more statistic supporting the vital need for well-trained, highly skilled, licensed substance abuse counselors in Massachusetts.


"Gov. Deval Patrick signs substance abuse law as national drug policy leaders gather in Boston," MassLive, August 6, 2014

"Massachusetts Governor Signs Measure Expanding Drug Treatment," Huffington Post, August 6, 2014,

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013,

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014,

Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013,

Licensing Requirements, Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, accessed January 20, 2014,

"Prescription Drug Abuse, Strategies to Stop the Epidemic," Trust for America's Health, October 2013,

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