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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.
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.
In most states, becoming a certified addiction counselor requires at least a bachelor’s degree, state licensure and a substance abuse counselor certification exam.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Addiction counselors made a median salary of $46,240 per year in 2019.
No, there are no additional requirements to become a telehealth provider. However, many states require addiction counselors to be licensed in their patient’s state.
In some states, yes. However, it still requires years of counselor experience, which can be hard to attain without a degree.
A person can generally become certified within two to three years, depending on how quickly they can complete their required clinical hours. However, acquiring a graduate degree can take many years before this step.
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.