Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania does not mandate substance abuse counselor licensure, but does set staffing requirements for professionals employed at state facilities. Individuals may meet education and experience requirements directly or demonstrate them though third party certification. Those who have graduate degrees in appropriate fields have the option of pursuing licensure as counselors.

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Minimum Requirements

A professional may qualify as a substance abuse counselor with a degree at the associate’s level in chemical dependency, counseling, psychology, social work, or another related field, provided there was appropriate practicum or clinical experience ( A registered nurse can qualify with a year of experience providing counseling services in a human service or health setting; an individual with a nursing degree and a clinical specialty in human services will also qualify.

An associate or baccalaureate degree holder is expected to have clinical experience in an agency that provides health or human services. If the degree is at the associate level, 3,640 hours (two years) of experience is required. If the degree is at the bachelor’s level, 1,820 hours will suffice. A master’s degree may demonstrate practicum experience in a qualifying agency.

If the health or human service agency is not considered to be a “drug and alcohol setting”, the individual will have a training plan that specifically addresses the development of competency in chemical dependency counseling; this is the case whether the degree is at the associate’s or master’s level. (Substance abuse facilities may hire counselor assistants with lesser qualifications provided ratios are in compliance with state standards.)

An individual can also demonstrate qualifications at the counselor level by presenting full certification from a state certification board that is a member of a national board or by presenting credentials from a board that is operating under the auspices of the government of another state.

Certification by the Pennsylvania Certification Board for Alcohol and Drug Counselors and Addiction Counselors

The Pennsylvania Certification Board, a member board of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium, offers qualifying credentials at several levels (

Certified Associate Addiction Counselor: The CAAC credential can be attained by an individual without a degree; the certification board notes that this level of certification meets state staffing requirements and is reciprocal through the IC&RC. A candidate who takes this route must begin at a lower level; the Associate Addiction Counselor II (AAC II) credential must be held for at least a year. The AAC II credential itself requires two years of experience (

The CAAC must have 300 hours of education that is relevant to addiction counseling, There must be 100 hours specifically in addiction. Six hours of ethics training are required. Education may include workshops, institutes, and in-service. A three semester hour college course is credited as 45 hours.

The candidate must have 300 hours of supervision. This must be provided by a Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS) or by another professional who meets supervisor requirements set by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The candidate must pass the IC&RC Examination for Alcohol and Drug Counselors.

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Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor: In order to earn the CADC credential, one must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and 300 hours of education in areas related to addiction counseling; addiction studies requirements are similar to those of counselors at the CAAC level.

An individual will need at least 4,000 hours of work experience in the alcohol and drug counseling arena to achieve this level of certification. A candidate who graduated with a degree outside the behavior sciences will need 6,000 hours.

Trainees will need 300 hours of supervision with at least ten in each of eight identified domains. They must also pass the IC&RC Examination for Alcohol and Drug Counselors.

Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor: In order to be eligible for the CAADC credential, a professional must have a master’s degree from an accredited school ( The candidate will also document 180 hours of education relevant to the addiction counseling role. Six must be in ethics and professional responsibility. The candidate will need 2,000 experience hours and 300 supervision hours. The CAADC candidate will take an advanced IC&RC Examination.

The Pennsylvania Certification Board also issues specialty credentials such as Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (CCJP); the CCJP is listed as meeting staffing requirements.

The Pennsylvania Certification Board Application Process

Candidates can download application packets for the particular credential they are interested in ( Application packets include detailed information about certification requirements. Candidates will sign the code of ethics and have the release form notarized.

Fees vary, depending on the certification sought, and whether the candidate needs to take an examination. A CADC candidate who needs to take the examination pays $350; a candidate who has already taken it pays $200. An AAC credential is just $100.

The application, fee, and some supporting documents will be accepted whether they come by mail, email, or fax. The transcript must be official and must come directly from the issuing institution. The certification board recommends that candidates request official transcripts several weeks before making application.

The certification board will access candidate’s exam eligibility and pre-register them. The candidate will schedule later. A candidate who fails must wait 60 days; another examination fee will be assessed.

Applications are held open for one year.

A certified addiction counselor may upgrade to CAADC by documenting a master’s degree and passing the IC&RC at the master’s level. There is a separate upgrade application.

Licensure through the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors

Master’s level addiction counselors may be licensed as professional counselors. Pennsylvania recognizes a number of professional counseling specializations. Licensure will require, at the minimum, a 60-semester hour master’s (or a 48-semester hour master’s with additional coursework to make up the difference). The degree may be in counseling or a closely related field, but must include coursework in Board-mandated areas (

Candidates must have at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience. Experience is accrued after the candidate has earned at least 48 graduate semester hours. Supervision must meet the standards outlined in Chapter 49 of state code.

The Pennsylvania Board accepts a number of examinations as license-qualifying. Options include the Advanced Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Counselor Examination (AAODA) developed by the IC&RC and the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC), given by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Additional information

The Pennsylvania Certification Board can be contacted by phone at 717-540-4455. Applicants may use the email contact form (

The State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors can be reached at 717-783-1389.

The Pennsylvania Association for Addiction Professionals is an additional professional resource (

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