Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements in Virginia

Virginia’s substance abuse counselors are credentialed by the Virginia Board of Counseling. There are multiple levels of credentialing: Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner, Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, and Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Assistant. The credential one ultimately becomes eligible for depends on whether one has a degree and, if so, at what level.

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Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP) Requirements

In order to attain the LSATP credential, an individual must pursue a graduate degree of at least 60 semester hours (

The degree may be in substance abuse or in a related counseling field. The student will need at least three semester hours in each of the following:

  • Counseling and psychotherapy theories
  • Counseling and psychotherapy techniques
  • Group counseling and psychotherapy
  • Appraisal, evaluation, and diagnosis
  • Psychopathology/ abnormal psychology
  • Multicultural counseling
  • Marriage and family systems
  • Professional identity and ethics
  • Research

The student will also need a 600 hour internship, with at least 450 hours specific to substance abuse treatment. The internship must include at least 240 hours of direct, face-to-face client contact, at least 200 of them focused on substance abuse treatment.

The Board requires 4,000 hours of supervised residency. The residency must include at least 2,000 client contact hours. Graduate level internship may be credited. A CACREP- or COAMFTE-accredited internship may count for up to 900 hours, provided supervision meets Virginia standards. There must be at least 20 hours of on-site supervision and 20 hours of off-site supervision; off-site supervision may take place in a group setting. The supervisor may be licensed in a related field provided he or she has no less than two years of appropriate post-licensure experience and has received training in supervision. An internship that is not part of a CACREP- or COAMFTE-accredited program may count for up to 600 hours.

Residents register their supervision with the Board. They will need 200 supervision hours before a license can be issued. Up to 100 supervision hours may be completed in a group setting. Supervisees are subject to quarterly evaluations.

The final step is passing the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC). The exam was developed by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Resources are available on the NBCC site (

An LSATP candidate pays $50 to register the supervision contract and $140 later for application and licensure. The $120 exam fee is paid to the NBCC.

Candidates who began supervision under different regulations will be held to those regulations.

Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements

A Certified Substance Abuse Counselor must have education at the bachelor’s level or higher. Additionally, the candidate must have 220 hours of didactic education in substance abuse and 180 hours of experiential tasks. Didactic education must include at least twenty hours of group counseling and twenty hours of treatment planning and research. It must include at least ten hours in each of the following:

  • Human behavior dynamics
  • Substance abuse signs and symptoms
  • Case management and continuum of care
  • Relapse prevention and recovery process
  • Treatment approaches, group dynamics, support groups, and adjunctive treatment
  • Crisis intervention
  • Professional identity
  • Ethics

The Board has identified twelve necessary tasks; the trainee must have a minimum of eight hours in each of them.

The 400 required education/ training hours may be done through an accredited school or a Board-approved integrated program. The Board may approve individualized programs consisting of seminars and workshops. Regulation 18VAC115-30-50 includes a list of organizations that are considered qualified to approve seminars and workshops; examples include the National Association of Social Workers and the American Counseling Association and its affiliates ( The Board notes that individuals who take classes as part of a personal treatment program may not credit them.

The trainee must accrue 2,000 hours of experience. This must include at least 100 hours of supervision; up to 50 may take place in a group setting. A candidate will take the Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Examination through the NBCC. The Board will communicate approval to the NBCC. At this point, the candidate will receive registration information; a study guide will also be provided. Examinations are offered twice a year, in April and October.

A candidate pays $50 to register supervision, $90 to apply for certification, and $120 to take the exam; the latter is paid to the NBCC.

Substance Abuse Counselor Assistant Requirements

A Substance Abuse Counselor Assistant must have, at minimum, a high school diploma or GED. The candidate will need 300 hours of substance abuse education, comprised of 120 hours of didactic training and 180 hours of experiential training. Education does not necessarily have to consist of college or university coursework. A list of potential sponsors/ approval agencies can be found in Regulation 18VAC115-30-62 ( The Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Assistant Examination, a jurisprudence test, is another certification requirement. Applicants will be mailed the exam and must complete it by the specified deadline; otherwise, it will be invalidated and a retake will be necessary. The Board will also send a copy of regulations for study purposes.

The counselor assistant application fee is $90. Candidates must enter into a supervision agreement and file it with the Board. Supervisors must fall into one of the professional categories outlined in application materials.

The Application Process

An in-state Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner or Substance Abuse Counselor candidate first registers supervision, then applies for examination and licensure at a later stage. Supervisor credentials will be verified at the registration stage. The required documentation for each stage is included in a single application packet, which can be downloaded from the Board site (

Candidates are required to read applicable statutes and regulations. They will need to submit official documentation of having met educational requirements.


Substance abuse counselors and treatment practitioners may be eligible for endorsement into Virginia if they were licensed on the basis of similar requirements. In most cases, examination will not be required.

Counselors can also demonstrate certification qualifications by presenting certification from NAADAC or another nationally recognized entity, provided the certification has been issued on the basis of similar requirements. Treatment practitioners may be endorsed on the basis of licensing in other mental health disciplines provided they also hold national board certification and have adequate experience ( Qualifying degree programs must include 60 semester hours of mental health coursework. If the degree was not in substance abuse, the practitioner will need to provide evidence of at least 12 semester hours of didactic coursework in substance abuse treatment.

Additional Information

The Virginia Board of Counseling ( can be reached by telephone at 804-367-4610 or by email at Coun at

The Virginia Association of Addiction Professionals is an additional professional resource (