How To Get Certified In Substance Abuse Counseling

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

Drug and alcohol abuse counselors are in high demand around the country. Sadly, the headlines and life experiences of individuals and families ruined by addiction are hard to ignore, especially as our country faces an opioid crisis.

Some people enter the area of substance abuse therapy after overcoming their own addictions, while others are driven to it by witnessing friends or family members overcome it. Career interest also often stems from a strong desire to help others. Whatever the reason, everyone in this industry strives to help people overcome their addictions to alcohol and drugs and improve their lives.

What Is A Substance Abuse Counselor And What Do They Do?

A drug abuse counselor treats people with addictions. In addition to treating mental and emotional illnesses, the primary job is to promote overall mental health. These professionals work with patients individually or in groups, depending on the treatment needed. The purpose is to help clients identify relapse-causing events and behaviors. Clients can also be referred to alternative resources, programs, and support groups by drug counselors. Addiction counselors may also offer educational programs or instructional sessions to educate patients’ families and friends about addiction, behavioral problems, coping methods, warning signs, and how to avoid destructive behavior.

Addiction counseling is available in general hospitals, community clinics, and private offices. Substance abuse counselors often work in jails, probation and parole offices, detox centers including online suboxone clinics, halfway houses, and juvenile detention facilities. They collaborate with psychiatric nurses, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatrists, and school counselors. Learn more about these other mental health professions at

Complete A GED Or High School Diploma

All counselor certifications and licensure require high school graduation, or to have obtained a GED. Psychology, social sciences, biology, English, and math are recommended courses for high school students who desire to pursue this job. Volunteering in the field of substance abuse counseling can also be beneficial.

Bachelor’s Or Associates Degree

While a degree is not required in all states to work as a substance abuse counselor, it can help ambitious professionals grow in their careers. There are several degrees that can be obtained in this discipline. Some states have special coursework requirements, so students should verify with their local board.

The program should at the very least be regionally accredited by an agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the US Department of Education (USDE). In some states, completion of a program approved by an agency such as the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC) is necessary.

Master’s Degree

Applicants for the most advanced substance addiction counselor credentials and licensure must have a master’s degree or higher. The most prevalent degree in this sector is a master of science (MS) in addiction therapy. There are various online master’s programs and on-campus choices with flexible schedules available, allowing individuals to continue higher education in this subject while also balancing employment or family responsibilities.

Supervised Work Experience

Applicants may be required to acquire supervised work experience depending on the degree of certification or license. To begin earning these hours, trainee, intern, and associate licenses and certifications are frequently necessary. State requirements vary, but can range from 1,000 hours or six months to 6,000 hours or three years. The amount of hours needed varies depending on the degree of certificate or license sought.

Complete Required Examination

Almost every state requires substance abuse counselor exams. None of the levels require testing. The most common tests required are the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) exam or the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I (NCAC I) exam from the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP), in collaboration with the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC).

The most popular examinations required are the ADC from the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) or the NCAC I from the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) (NAADAC).

Advanced licenses and certifications may need the IC&RC Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (AADC) test or the NAADAC National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II (NCAC II) exam. Many states additionally need a jurisprudence test.

Passing an IC&RC exam grants license and certificate reciprocity with other states.

Get Licensed Or Certified

Candidates can apply for certification or licensing with their local board if they have completed the necessary education, training, and work experience requirements, as well as passed the appropriate exams. Applicants must wait to begin working as a substance abuse counselor until their application has been approved.



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