Certified addiction counselors can enjoy more professional opportunities and higher pay than non-certified ones. Counselors dedicate years of their career to qualify.

Addiction counselors, also called substance abuse counselors, play a large role in helping individuals recover from substance use disorders and other destructive habits. These professionals work directly with clients and their families by providing ongoing therapy, counseling and guidance. Many addiction counselors have experienced the effects of addiction personally, whether in themselves or in the lives of loved ones. Addiction counselors must be caring, nonjudgmental individuals who have a passion for helping others. The career path is not a quick one, as it requires many years to attain licensure and certification. However, the end result is a profession that allows you to make a positive difference in people’s lives each day.

Addiction professionals are always in demand to close the treatment gap found in many communities across the United States. This review covers how to become a certified addiction counselor, including what education and experience are required. 

Benefits of Becoming a Certified Addiction Counselor

While it’s possible to be a substance abuse counselor without a certification in some places, a certification can open the door to a variety of professional opportunities. Namely, it shows a mental health counselor’s experience and commitment to treating substance use disorders, which can impress employers at addiction treatment facilities and hospitals. Certification also helps counselors make more money in their roles. 

Without a certification, candidates need extensive work experience related to addiction treatment to become an addiction counselor. Additionally, these roles will likely pay less than ones that require certification.

How to Become a Certified Addiction Counselor

In most states, becoming a certified addiction counselor requires at least a bachelor’s degree, state licensure and a substance abuse counselor certification exam.

Related Topic: Addiction treatment specialists 

Education and Degree Requirements

Each state has its own requirements for addiction counselors. Across all states, counselors need at least a bachelor’s degree, though they cannot open a private practice without a graduate-level degree. Counselors without a master’s or doctoral degree need to be supervised under a graduate-level counselor.

Typically, the path to becoming a licensed and certified addiction counselor involves attaining a graduate-level degree in addiction counseling. It’s important to choose an accredited program approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP-approved programs ensure students are prepared for the certifying and licensing exams in many states. 

Training and Clinical Experience

Before getting licensed as a counselor, students must spend many supervised hours gaining clinical experience. These hours may be done through internships or practicums, which are usually a part of your degree program.

In states where licensure can be achieved with a bachelor’s degree, candidates typically spend 4,000 to 10,000 hours gaining supervised experience. However, those with master’s degrees may only need around 1,000 hours of clinical experience. After these hours are completed, a candidate can take an exam to become licensed.

Examination and Certification

After receiving a bachelor’s or master’s degree, depending on the state, and acquiring a certain number of clinical hours, a candidate can take an exam to become a licensed addiction counselor. Receiving a certification, however, will take many additional hours of counseling experience. Generally, a person must complete 4,000 to 6,000 hours at an approved facility, which usually takes two to three years of full-time counseling.

The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) offers three different types of addiction counselor certifications:

  • National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I (NCAC I)
  • National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II (NCAC II)
  • Master Addiction Counselor (MAC)

Renewing Addiction Counseling Certification

Certifications must be renewed every two years. Additionally, there are several requirements for continuing education credits that counselors must complete to renew their certifications. For each of the three NAADAC certifications, renewal requires 40 hours of continuing education every two years. Counselors must also provide their work history for the last two years.

Available Positions at The Recovery Village

The Recovery Village has several facilities throughout the United States, and we are always looking to add new professionals to our team of industry-leading experts. In addition to positions at one of our facilities, jobs are also available nationally through our telehealth platform. Our evidence-based approach to addiction treatment has made us one of the first organizations to be designated as a Blue Distinction Center for Substance Use Treatment. We are accredited by The Joint Commission, and our staff collectively holds over 3,000 professional credentials.

a woman wearing glasses and a blazer.
Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
a woman with long hair smiling at the camera.
Medically Reviewed By – Nanci Stockwell, LCSW, MBA
A dynamic leader and award-winning business strategist, Nanci Stockwell brings years of industry experience in behavioral health care to her role at Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

Counselor-License. “Addiction Counselor.” Accessed June 10, 2020.

Psychology School Guide. “What are the Requirements for Addiction Counselor Certification?” Accessed June 10, 2020.

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. “Renewal Process.” Accessed June 10, 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors.” April 10, 2020. Accessed June 10, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.