What to Know About the Substance Abuse Counseling Certification / Licensure Process
It’s not just the human resources director who determines who is qualified to practice addiction counseling. You can expect your state to have regulations in place. However, the credentialing process will vary. Some states license or certify substance abuse counselors directly. Some direct them to a third party certification agency. There may be just one recognized certification board in your jurisdiction or there may be several. The most widely accepted certification boards are members of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) or affiliates of the Association of Substance Abuse Professionals (NAADAC).
There are similarities in the process regardless of whether the state issues the credential directly or entrusts an outside agency. Full certification requires experience. In some cases, you will hold an entry-level credential while you accrue your experience. Other requirements include education, examination, and character screening.
You will need to document your education. A high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement, though some boards set standards higher. In most states, lower level certifications do not require a college degree. However, they do require a set number of related education hours; some will be addiction-related, others counseling-related. In many cases, you have the option of completing your hours through formal academic coursework or continuing education.
- Post University is accepting students to their Online Graduate Certificate program in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. This program requires that applicants posses a Bachelor's degree. At this time the program is not enrolling students from California, Colorado, New York, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky, Idaho, and Pennsylvania. Click here to learn more about this program.
- Capella University offers an online MS in Addiction Studies and a PhD in Addiction Psychology. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
- Liberty University, a nonprofit University, offers a Bachelor of Science in Psychology – Addictions and Recovery. Liberty University is ranked in the top 1% of online universities for affordability, accessibility, and academic quality and is accredited by the SACSCOC. Click here to further explore this and other programs at Liberty University.
- Alvernia University's Bachelor's of Arts in Addictions and Mental Health Treatment is one of the oldest programs of this kind and considered to be one of the top programs in the country for this area of study. There are multiple start dates this year. Click here to explore Alvernia University and the Bachelor's of Arts in Addictions and Mental Health Treatment program.
- The Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology - Addictions at Purdue University Global is designed for those who want to pursue careers that assist people whose lives are affected by substance abuse, or who suffer from other potentially detrimental behavioral addictions such as gambling. Click here to learn more about Purdue University Global and the Bachelor's in Psychology - Addictions program.
- The online counseling programs at Walden University are CACREP accredited and will allow you to learn from distinguished faculty members with years of practical experience in their respective fields. Click here to become a knowledgeable leader in your field.
- Gain the education you need to make a difference in people’s lives with an online Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work from Campbellsville University. To learn the skills and knowledge needed for careers in social work, with curricula spanning crisis intervention, law, advocacy, social policies, psychopathology and marriage and family relationships click here.
Character and Professional Competence Requirements
Your credentialing agency will also have polices in place to assure that you meet ethical and legal standards and have the capacity to practice competently. You may have a fingerprint-based criminal background check as a condition of licensing. You may instead sign a release authorizing the certification board to carry out background screening. Independent certification boards often require several letters of reference. They also ask you to sign a code of ethics.
If you have ever had a substance abuse or addiction problem, you may need to attest that you have been drug-free for a specified period of time.
You will work a specified number of hours (typically, 2,000 or more) before you are fully credentialed. You may need to register or pursue an entry-level credential in the interim. However, this is not a universal requirement. Your state agency may mandate that a certain percentage of the counseling staff is ‘qualified’; the rest may be working toward this status. Chances are good that your supervisor will eventually need to provide an evaluation or recommendation to the certification board.
You will also need to go through an examination process. This typically takes place after you have applied. Most boards require NAADAC or IC&RC examinations. Some states will accept either. In some cases, the only requirement is for written examination. In others, you must pass an oral examination. You may need to prepare case studies and submit them with your application.
You may also need to take a jurisprudence examination (a test of your knowledge of counseling-related law and ethics).
Credentialing… and Beyond
When you have met all requirements, you will be authorized to use a particular title. This title will vary from state to state. It may include the word ‘licensed’ or ‘certified’. Third party boards issue certifications, never licenses. State agencies may issue either licenses or certifications. In some states, the term ‘licensed’ refers to master’s level practitioners while ‘certified’ refers to those below this level. In others, all are termed ‘licensed’.
How important is the title? Not much! It can be important what agency grants it. Still, holding a third party certification doesn’t necessarily mean you are at a disadvantage if you relocate. Some government licensing agencies are member boards of the IC&RC. Reciprocity is often a fairly simple process, though some states set requirements above the norm.
Addictions/Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia