Substance use disorder or addiction counselors play a huge role in helping patients recover from drug or alcohol abuse and other harmful habits. These professionals work directly with clients and their families by utilizing ongoing therapy and counseling to ensure that patients understand their conditions and develop the necessary skills to stay sober long term. Many addiction recovery counselors have personally been affected by substance abuse, whether in themselves or their loved ones. A certified addiction specialist must be a compassionate, caring, and nonjudgmental individual who has a passion for helping others overcome drug and alcohol abuse. If you’re interested in working in the addiction treatment field, we’re sharing the steps on how to become a drug abuse counselor below.
Certified drug and alcohol abuse counselors are always in demand. However, there are some steps you have to take to work in the addiction treatment field.
While it’s possible to become a drug abuse counselor without certification in some states, certifications usually open more doors to more employment opportunities. Namely, being certified shows that you have experience and commitment to treating substance use disorders, which can make a positive impact on your employers.
Additionally, certification also helps addiction counselors make more money in their positions, which is always a plus. Without a certification, those seeking careers in addiction recovery need extensive work experience in treating addiction to become a counselor, which can prolong their employment journey.
In most states, for someone to become a substance abuse counselor, they at least have to have a bachelor’s degree, state licensure, and pass a substance abuse counselor certification exam. Below is an in-depth review on how to become a drug abuse counselor, including education and experience requirements.
Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor education requirements vary depending on the state. Even so, counselors in all states need to have at least a bachelor's degree in addiction counseling, though they can’t open a private practice without a graduate degree.
Addiction counselors without a master’s or doctoral degree (Ph.D.) require supervision under a graduate-level counselor. Normally, becoming a licensed addiction counselor involves graduating with a graduate-level degree, which first requires you to have your bachelor’s degree.
For those who are interested in the academia or research aspect of addiction treatment, earning a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in substance abuse may be the best choice. A Ph.D. provides you with a solid understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods and counseling theory.
For people who already have a degree and are searching for a shorter program that can potentially help them gain state licensure, many schools offer certificate programs in substance abuse counseling. At the undergraduate level, certificate programs require that students have a high school diploma or associate degree. At the graduate level, certificate programs require that students have a bachelor’s degree.
It’s also important to choose a program that’s accredited or approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). When a program is accredited, it means that the content and quality of the program have been evaluated by top professionals in the said field and meet the standards set by the profession.
CACREP-approved programs ensure that students are prepared to take the necessary certifying and licensing exams. By ensuring that your program is CACREP-approved, you can be assured that everything you’re learning is important to obtaining your certifications and licenses.
Before getting licensed as an addiction counselor, students must spend a certain number of supervised hours gaining clinical experience. These hours may be completed through internships or practicums, which are usually a part of your degree program.
In states where state licensure can be attained with a bachelor's degree, students typically spend 4,000 to 10,000 hours gaining clinical experience. On the other hand, those with master’s degrees may only need to complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience.
Once these hours are completed, students are then allowed to take an exam to become licensed.
Depending on the state, receiving a bachelor’s or master’s degree and completing a certain number of clinical hours, a candidate can take an exam to attain their licensure. However, the requirements are different to receive a certification as a certified drug addiction counselor.
The difference between a certification and licensure is that certification is usually issued by a non-governmental agency, such as an association of nurses, while licensure is issued by a government agency or entity. Receiving a certification usually takes many additional hours of counseling experience to attain.
Generally, you must complete 4,000 to 6,000 hours at an approved treatment facility, which usually takes two to three years of full-time counseling. Three different types of addiction counselor certifications are offered by The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC):
These certifications must be renewed every two years, which typically requires a certain number of hours of continuing education credits. For each of the certifications mentioned above, counselors must complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years to renew their certifications.
If you’re searching for substance abuse treatment jobs, Banyan Treatment Centers is currently offering various positions at our nationwide drug and alcohol treatment facilities. We’re seeking dedicated, hard-working professionals who are willing to learn and have a passion for helping people heal from addiction.