The disorder of substance abuse — the habitual and uncontrollable use of addictive drugs — is physiologically and psychologically harmful to the individual, and often makes it difficult for that person to function in society. Substances that can be abused include legal drugs like alcohol, and nicotine; prescription drugs such as sleep medications, antidepressants, and antipsychotic medications; and illicit narcotics like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Professionals of psychology who treat substance abuse patients identify factors that contribute to the disorder, such as impulsive behaviors and mood disorders. Once the driving factors have been established, psychologists focus their energy on treating clients through intervention, counseling and continuing care. A substance abuse psychology certificate equips individuals with the skill-set to provide addiction guidance and counseling to the general public.

Types of Substance Abuse Psychology Vocational Certificates

Students that enroll in online substance abuse certification programs receive training in a specialized field. Entry-level professionals may enroll in a certificate program to secure employment in an occupation that requires specific expertise. Experienced workers, conversely, may want to supplement their expertise. In contrast to a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse psychology, for example, where students receive a well-rounded education in addition to their major, the vocational certificate focuses specifically on substance abuse.

The certificate may also be an appropriate step for already licensed counselors or nurses who want to shift their career focus to addictions counseling. Furthermore, the completion of the substance abuse certificate program may fulfill continuing education requirements for licensed psychotherapists and counselors. In short, the substance abuse certificate can benefit many established professionals and entry-level workers in the field who wish to advance their knowledge.

Admissions criteria for the certificate program are not nearly as extensive as those for degree programs. Applicants should have a high school diploma or GED, as well as two years of experience in rehabilitation for individuals who suffer from chemical dependency. Once admitted, students will take classes in the fundamentals of substance abuse, addictions history, and treatment. Because the program typically takes only one year to complete, the curriculum is comprised of advanced classes and hands-on experience, including internship opportunities and intervention instruction.

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies certificate program offered through UC Berkeley Extension, for example, offers the following courses:

  • Drugs and the Brain: Biological Basis of Chemical Dependence
  • Contemporary Perspectives in the Treatment of Addiction in Multicultural Populations
  • Addressing Alcohol and Drug Problems in the Treatment of Mood Disorders

The UC Berkeley extension program actually satisfies the 340-355 hours of instruction needed to qualify students for work as an addictions counselors in California. Other certificates are not as extensive and require less time to complete, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison Substance Abuse Certificate Program, a course of study that includes 36 hours toward the 360 needed to practice in substance abuse education in Wisconsin. Qualifications for the substance abuse counselor licensure vary from state to state. Students can look to The National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates, Inc. for information on licensure qualifications in their state of residence.

What’s Next for Substance Abuse Psychology Vocational Certificate Holders?

The substance abuse psychology certification program will prepare counselors to respond to crisis situations and interact with people who suffer from addictions (as well as their families and friends). The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) explains that many substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors assist clients through one-on-one counseling, group therapy sessions, or a combination of both. The BLS reports that the median salary for this occupation was $38,120 in 2010.

Graduates of substance abuse psychology certificate programs can continue their education by pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. in substance abuse psychology, depending on degrees previously achieved. Other possibilities include degrees in clinical psychology or social work. The BLS states psychologists earned a median salary of $68,640 in 2010, whereas social workers earned a median salary of $42,480 in the same year.