Sign Up with Campus Explorer and join our 2 million+ members.

Sign Up

Career Information:

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Quick Links:

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Overview

Employment for mental health and substance abuse social workers is expected to grow faster than average compared with all occupations. In turn, job prospects should be favorable, especially for those in rural areas. About 54 percent of jobs are found in healthcare and social assistance, while 31 percent are in government. A bachelor’s degree is necessary for most entry-level mental health and substance abuse social workers although a masters degree is need for some positions.

Nature of the Work for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Overall, social work requires a strong desire to help improve other’s lives. Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients cope with and solve everyday life issues from personal problems to dealing with relationships. Substance abuse, disability and life-threatening diseases are all in a days work. Some mental health and substance abuse social workers may conduct research or get involved in policy and planning. With an appropriate state-mandated license, mental health and substance abuse social workers are also called licensed clinical social workers.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers treat and assess clients facing mental illness or struggling with substance abuse. They may conduct group therapy, individual therapy, crisis intervention, social rehabilitation, outreach and life skills lessons. When leaving in-patient facilities, mental health and substance abuse social workers must prepare their clients for a successful and easy return to the community. Some may work with family members of individuals suffering from addiction or other mental health problems. Mental health and substance abuse social workers work in both in-patient programs where patients live at the facility and outpatient facilities where patients only come in for treatment. Some work in employee-assistance programs, which can help people with job-related pressures or personal problems that may be affecting their work. Other mental health and substance abuse social workers work in private practices. Often mental health and substance abuse social workers are also known as substance abuse social workers, clinical social workers or occupational social workers.

Usually mental health and substance abuse social workers work in offices or residential facilities. However, some must travel to see clients or attend meetings. The work is satisfying, yet often challenging. Many mental health and substance abuse social workers face understaffing and large caseloads, which lead to increased pressure and stress. A standard 40-hour workweek is typical for mental health and substance abuse social workers, but some may need to put in weekend or evening hours to adhere to client’s schedules. Some also work part time.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Usually a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is need for entry-level positions for mental health and substance abuse social workers. That said, some individuals with degrees in sociology or psychology can find entry level jobs as well. More advanced positions require a masters degree in social work (MSW), including supervisory, staff training and administrative positions.

Overall, bachelor’s degree programs lead to direct service positions for mental health and substance abuse social workers such as mental health assistant, residential counselor or caseworker. Courses include human behavior and social environment, social research methods, field education, social work values and ethics, dealing with culturally diverse clientele and at-risk populations and promotion of social and economic justice.

Masters degree programs however often focus on a chose field such as mental health and substance abuse social workers. With this concentration they can learn how to take on supervisory roles, explore new social services methods, manage large caseloads and perform clinical assessments. Masters degree programs can take 2 to 4 years, either full or part time. Entry into the program does not require a BSW, though candidates should have a background in biology, sociology, social work, psychology, economics and political science. A second language is also a big plus.

All states require some for of certification, registration or licensing for mental health and substance abuse social workers. Most states require 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised work. However, because states vary, candidates should check requirements in the state they wish to work.

Beyond schooling, mental health and substance abuse social workers should be objective, sensitive and emotionally mature. They should be responsible, independent workers with good communication skills. In order to see if the job is right, many future mental health and substance abuse social workers try a volunteer or paid social work aide position.

With experience and an advanced degree mental health and substance abuse social workers can move into the role of supervisor, assistant director, executive director or program manager. Others may take on teaching ,research or consulting positions. Still others work for government agencies and research institutions helping to formulate policies.

Another option for mental health and substance abuse social workers is to go into private practice. To do this they must have a masters degree and suitable supervised work experience.

Top 10 Most Popular Social Work Schools

1. Springfield College (Springfield, Massachusetts)
2. New York University (New York, New York)
3. Columbia University in the City of New York (New York, New York)
4. Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
5. Fordham University, Bronx (Bronx, New York)
6. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
7. Indiana University, Bloomington (Bloomington, Indiana)
8. SUNY Empire State College (Saratoga Springs, New York)
9. Metropolitan College of New York (New York, New York)
10. Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana)

See All Social Work Schools

Online School: Saint Leo University Online

Employment and Job Outlook for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Number of People in Profession

127,140

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow much faster than average (increase 20% or more).

Mental health and substance abuse social workers hold about 106,920 jobs. Most work in cities or suburbs.

While social work jobs overall are only expected to grow at an average rate, mental health and substance abuse social workers will see job growth of almost 20 percent over the next decade, which is much faster than average. Mental health and substance abuse social workers specializing in substance abuse will see the strongest growth. This is due to the fact that more and more substance abusers are going into treatment programs as an alternate to prison. Those sentenced to prison or probation as also required to have substance abuse treatment as well. As the trend grows, the demand will grow, giving mental health and substance abuse social workers an opportunity to help them on the road to recovery. Private practice opportunities will also expand for mental health and substance abuse social workers as they’re increasingly preferred over their costly counterparts – psychologists. Plus, new legislation requires employer insurance plans to cover mental health treatment equally to physical health and in turn, it may increase the demand for mental health treatment and mental health and substance abuse social workers.

Overall job prospects will be favorable. In addition to growth, jobs will become available as workers retire or otherwise leave the occupation. Competition may still occur in areas where social worker training programs are prevalent.

Earnings and Salary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Median annual wages for mental health and substance abuse social workers are $38,010. The highest 10 percent earn above $64,610, the lowest 10 percent earn under $24,230 and the middle 50 percent earn between $29,920 and $50,140. The median annual wages broken down by the top industries employing mental health and substance abuse social workers are as follows:

Residential mental retardation, mental health and substance abuse facilities: $33,020
Individual and family services: $39,710
Outpatient care centers: $41,210

Annual Salary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

On average, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers earn $38,200 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $24,940/yr $30,480/yr $49,840/yr $62,760/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook