Substance Abuse/Alcohol and Drug/Addiction Counselor Requirements in California

The California Department of Health Care Services licenses some types of drug abuse treatment facilities and voluntarily certifies drug abuse facilities that are not required to hold a license. California requires professionals who provide counseling and related services at these facilities to be certified by an approved agency. They begin the process by registering with an approved certification board. They then have five years to meet all requirements, including work experience.

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General Requirements for Education, Training, and Examination

All certification programs require candidates to meet minimum training requirements established in California Code ( Addiction specialists must have, at minimum, 155 hours of classroom education. They must meet the competences set forth in Addiction Counseling Competencies: The Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes of Professional Practice, also known as TAP 21. They must have training in delivering services to special populations, for example, individuals with disabilities or co-occurring disorders. They must have education in ethics, communicable diseases, and sexual harassment prevention.

Certification is also dependent on meeting work experience requirements. Candidates must pass an examination. There are multiple examinations that may be used; this will vary by certification agency.

Substance abuse counselors register with the certification board most suitable to their circumstances and carry out steps in accordance with that board’s requirements; candidates must be registered within six months of commencing work. Beginning in 2014, addiction specialists take nine hours of introductory coursework before formal registration.

There are 5 boards listed as currently providing certification:

  • Addiction Counselor Certification Board of California (an official affiliate of CAADE)
  • American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders (AAHCPAD)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Breining Institute
  • California Association of Drinking Driver Treatment Programs (CADDTP)

The list was updated in the fall of 2013.

Option 1: Addiction Counselor Certification Board of California (an official affiliate of CAADE)

The Addiction Counselor Certification Board of California awards the Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATC I) credential to those who have completed programs that are accredited by the California Association for Alcohol/ Drug Educators (CAADE) or deemed equivalent. Candidates must accrue 2,240 hours in a state-licensed facility. Programs must be housed in regionally accredited institutions. There are accredited programs in Arizona and Nevada as well as California. Candidates also must take and pass the Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATC) Exam.

The CATC II requires an associate’s degree and completion of an accredited (or equivalent) program. The CATC III requires a bachelor’s. The CATC IV requires a master’s. The CATC V requires a doctorate. The designation ‘N’ is added to the credential when an individual has a nursing degree.

Option 2: American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders (AAHCPAD)

The American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders offers the Certified Addiction Specialist (CAS) credential. Individuals with graduate degrees in mental health are required to have three years (6,000 hours) of experience; pre-doctoral internship may count as one ( Individuals who do not have graduate degrees must have five years of experience.

All candidates will need to put together a portfolio documenting 270 hours of training in required areas. They also need to furnish three professional recommendations. Once eligibility requirements are met, the candidate will sit for an examination.

Option 3: Breining Institute

The Breining Institute offers the Registered Addiction Specialist (RAS) certification. It is available at four levels ( The RAS depends on 155 hours of formal training, one year of full-time clinical experience (2,080 hours), 160 hours of supervised experience, and passing scores on the Addiction Counselor Exam.

A substance abuse counselor who has an associate’s degree in healing arts/ sciences may achieve RAS II after three years; a counselor who does not may achieve RAS II after five years and 450 hours of education. RAS III may be achieved by an addiction specialist with an associate or baccalaureate degree in healing arts/ sciences; however, the experience requirement will vary. The M-RAS credential can be achieved more quickly by a professional with a graduate degree.

The Breining Institute also offers specialty credentials.

Option 4: California Association of Drinking Driver Treatment Programs (CADDTP)

The California Association of DUI Treatment Programs offers the Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor (CAODC) credential based on completion of 155 hours of education, 160 hours of supervised training and 2,080 hours of work experience; candidates must also pass a written examination ( Addiction counselors may move up to Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor – Advanced (CAODC-A) status when they have five years of work experience and have completed 320 hours of education. CADDTP also offers a clinical supervisor credential.

Option 5: California Certification Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors

The California Certification Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors, a member board of the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC & RC), offers credentials at multiple levels. Candidates may begin as Registered Students. The Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Associate (CADCA) credential is for individuals who have completed 315 hours of education and 255 hours of field practicum and who have passed the IC &RC examination. The Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor I (CADC-I) credential is for those who have also completed 4,000 hours of work experience; with 6,000 hours of work experience, professionals can attain CADC-II status. Professionals can also pursue specialty certifications like Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional.

The Application Process

Application materials are available on the sites of the individual certification boards. Candidates will take nine hours of introductory coursework and apply for registration. Candidates should be aware that if the board operates in states other than California, there may be separate California registration materials.

Once individuals are registered or certified, they will appear in the database of the certifying agency.


While California does not recognize certification boards other than those specifically approved, the individual boards have the power to grant reciprocal certification based on requirements that were met through other programs.


Licensed professionals, including psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists, are exempt from the certification requirement. However, they must fulfill a continuing education requirement.

Additional Information

Currently, candidates can go to the site of the Department of Alcohol and Drug programs to see their options ( However, services have been transferred to the Department of Health Care Services. Substance abuse counselors can look for information to be added to the ‘providers and partners’ pages (