You may be passionate about helping others deal with complex health concerns, including drug and alcohol addiction. If that’s the case, you should learn how to become a substance abuse counselor. Read on to discover your path to this rewarding career.
Steps to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor
Here are the key steps you’ll need to take to become a substance abuse counselor.
Step 1. Complete a bachelor’s degree
The first step on your path to becoming a substance abuse counselor is to gain a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse and addiction studies, psychology, social work, or a related. Typically, undergraduate courses include addiction foundations, counseling foundations, human development assessment, and personality theories.
But your coursework and requirements will vary depending on the program you select. You may also take courses in pharmacology, leadership, and even strategic approaches to counseling and recovery.
Step 2. Earn a master’s degree
To become a substance abuse counselor, you then need to work to earn a master’s degree in social work or psychology. You can choose from three major degrees: an M.A., MS, or MSW (master’s in social work). During your graduate studies, you may specialize in substance abuse counseling.
Step 3. Complete graduate and postgraduate internship or practicum
An internship is an excellent opportunity to gain hands-on experience in addiction counseling. For example, you may take on the role of an intern in a private clinic or rehabilitation center. With 600 clock hours required by some programs, the internship experience gives you knowledge and context that are invaluable.
A practicum allows you to observe other substance abuse counselors in action. You may be required to fulfill 100 total clock hours on-site under supervision. That requirement may vary depending on your program and the focus of your study.
You may be required to complete your practicum or internship in the state where you live and will be licensed. You can use these activities to fulfill the supervised hours requirement. This level of supervised experience also offers greater insight into core practice areas you’ll need to know for your counseling exams.
Step 4. Pass substance counseling exams
Some states require that you pass the recognized examination for graduation or licensure:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE)
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
Even if the state doesn’t require that you pass these exams, you may need a passing score to receive the credentials and certification you need for a job. Therefore, it’s important to research which licenses you need for your state, according to the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).
Step 5: Earn counseling certifications
Licensed professional counselors can pursue national certification through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). In addition, the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) offers three different credentials with additional specializations.
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I (NCAC I)
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II (NCAC II)
- Master Addiction Counselor (MAC)
Depending on your skill sets, you may need varying knowledge levels and formal training. Credentials are associated with different populations based on the standards they have. You can earn these credentials with hands-on work.
Each test shows that the substance use disorders counselor meets quality standards, making them a leader in the field. But, of course, you may also pursue specializations. Here are a few of the specialization options.
- Nicotine Dependence Specialist (NDS)
- National Certified Adolescent Addiction Counselor (NCAAC)
- National Peer Recovery Support Specialist (NCPRSS)
Step 6. Continue your education
It is essential to stay current with any updates to the substance abuse and addiction field through continuing education.
How to Become a California Substance Abuse Counselor
Before you can practice legally, you must be licensed. But you must earn a counseling graduate degree before applying for a California license. In the first 2-6 years of counseling, you’ll also need to complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience as an intern. Then, you must pass the LPCC Law & Ethics Exam during your first year of internship.
The NCCA recognizes these two agencies in California:
- California Association of DUI Treatment
- California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals CCAPP
If you are a certified substance abuse counselor in California, you can work as a counselor at the California Department of Health Care Services. Candidates who hold either California association counselor certification board credential are more likely to have job opportunities.
How to Become a Texas Substance Abuse Counselor
Academic achievement, work experience, and formal training are the minimum requirements for Texas alcohol and drug counselor certification. In addition, as a Texas substance abuse counselor, you must verify that you’ve completed the Chemical Dependency Counseling Practice of 300 hours. You must conduct the verification in a setting that provides alcohol and other drug abuse counseling.
Here are additional requirements you’ll need to comply with the following as you become a Texas substance abuse counselor.
- You must earn a minimum of ten (10) hours of training in the Substance Use Counselor’s 12 Core Functions.
- For Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) licensure, the Texas Department of State Health Services uses the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) ADC Written examinations. So you need to offer verification of a passing score.
- Total 270 chemical dependency education hours.
- As a Texas System of Certification for Alcohol and Drug Counselor, you must follow the board’s ethical standards.
- You must live in Texas.
- A minimum of fifty percent (51%) of your work should be performed in Texas. (Exceptions are possible.)
Of course, you must have 6,000 hours of chemical dependency counseling experience (approximately three years), but degrees can replace some of those hours. Take the time to understand the requirements for what you need to do and know. It’s essential to understand the entire process of how to become a substance abuse counselor. Still, you should also reach out to your mentors and program advisors to find out if exceptions are possible.
How to Become a Florida Substance Abuse Counselor
The State of Florida licenses and regulates drug and alcohol abuse treatment facilities. The Florida Department of Children and Families (Substance Abuse Program Office) certifies providers, but they don’t certify substance abuse counselors. Instead, the Florida Certification Board, an independent non-profit organization, certifies counselors in substance abuse. Certified Addiction Professionals and Master’s Certified Addiction Professionals must meet Florida law’s requirements for qualified professionals.
Limiting your academic credentials will also restrict your job opportunities. However, suppose you’re interested in a path that will ensure the best possible job outlook for your future career. In that case, you may get a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the very least as you become a substance abuse counselor.
While becoming certified as a substance abuse counselor may still be voluntary in Florida, achieving just the minimum qualifications is not to your benefit. The best job openings require advanced education and the certification process.
The Florida Certification Board has three types of substance abuse professional certification. Florida certifies:
- Certified Addiction Counselors (CAC)
- Certified Addiction Professionals (CAP)
- Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professionals (MCAP)
The certification and proper training will enable you to work as a substance abuse counselor at some of Florida’s most prestigious medical facilities. Therefore, understanding Florida requirements is critical as you determine how to become a substance abuse counselor.
What Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Do? A Day in the Life of a Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors provide the right support to people suffering from substance abuse problems. So, as a substance abuse counselor, you may work in a substance abuse treatment facility. On the other hand, it could be an outpatient clinic or a residential program. As a counselor, you’ll support those battling substance abuse disorders. Of course, you have several directions you could go as an addiction counselor, which is often determined by the job description for the position you take on. For example, you may help individuals with coping skills.
Substance Abuse Counselor Salary & Job Outlook
Finding a stable job as a certified substance abuse counselor is possible. Here’s an overview of the salary and job outlook for the substance abuse counselor position.
Substance Abuse Counselor Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse counselors specializing in substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health earned $48,520 in May 2021.
Substance Abuse Counselor Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, behavioral health and substance abuse counselor jobs will grow by 22% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the overall labor market. The demand for educated and licensed individuals as substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors will probably continue to grow by 43,600 yearly over the next decade. Because of worker transfers or retirements, these openings may be filled by replacements.
Requirements for Substance Abuse Counselors
Your requirements to become a licensed substance abuse counselor may vary dramatically from state to state. Here’s an overview of the accreditation options and the credentials and requirements you’ll need to know as you focus on how to become a substance abuse counselor.
Research accredited colleges and universities as you focus on becoming a substance abuse counselor. It’s the best and easiest way to ensure they have vetted the program. Particularly as you look at the other requirements, you’ll need a high-quality program to prepare you with the knowledge and hands-on experience to help you pass those exams and earn the verified credentials and licensures you’ll need to become a substance abuse counselor.
Requirements for How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor
Depending on their specialty, substance abuse counselors must complete supervised work during graduate degree programs. You may also need on-the-job training. With a master’s degree, you may find unique internship opportunities in your field, giving you a glimpse into your future career options in substance abuse and addiction.
As a private substance abuse counselor, you must be licensed to practice as a substance abuse counselor, but each state has its own licensing requirements. In addition, not all states require a master’s degree from a university accredited by the American Psychological Association. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you must have 2,000 clinical hours under approved supervision. You’ll also need a passing score on a state-recognized exam.
The National Board for Certified Counselors provides information about each state’s regulatory board. For example, in some states, addiction counselors who practice outside private practice face less stringent requirements, depending on where they practice.
Most states require applicants to pass an exam, but not all require a specific degree. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) provides additional information about your state’s licensing board. In addition, you may be required to take continuing education courses as you continue as a practicing addiction/substance abuse counselor.
Would Continuing My Education Help?
As a substance abuse counselor, you’ll benefit from the new skills deeper understanding of approaches, research, and even treatments in addiction and substance abuse counseling. In addition, you can access continuing education online via webinars, training, and course.
What Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Do?
Substance abuse counselors support people with drug or alcohol addictions, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems. Their goal is to help individuals alter their behavior to become fully recover.
Substance Abuse Counselor FAQ
Here’s a quick list of frequently asked questions. Find out more about how to become a substance abuse counselor.
Do you need a master’s or advanced degree to become a substance abuse counselor?
For some states, the minimum educational requirement for substance abuse counselors is a master’s degree in psychology or social work, but in other states, you only need a bachelor’s degree.
Getting a master’s degree in addiction counseling could be a good way for someone with an undergraduate degree in a field unrelated to addiction counseling to work as a counselor for the first time. For example, consider a counseling program in addiction studies, psychology, social work, or even counseling. You can also redirect your professional focus certifications from NCC AP.
Is licensure required to become a substance abuse counselor?
You may need a master’s degree in addiction counseling to work as a substance abuse counselor for the first time after earning an unrelated undergraduate degree. However, even if you have a degree in a related topic area, you may need a graduate-level education and thousands of hours of work experience to become licensed as a substance abuse counselor.
What’s the difference between a licensed social worker and a substance abuse counselor?
Although a licensed social worker and substance abuse counselor can still both provide mental health services, there are key differences. Substance use counselors primarily offer behavioral therapy and other forms of mental health treatment. In contrast, social workers assist clients in building meaningful connections within supportive communities.
How many years does it take to become a licensed substance abuse counselor?
Depending on your state’s requirements, addiction education and training will take a certain amount of time. Bachelor’s degrees take four years to earn, while master’s degrees take two years. After graduation, you will need to earn several thousand clinical hours in supervised work settings.
Resources for Substance Abuse Counselors
Among the top health protection agencies in the U.S., this department is under the Department of Health and Human Services. While it has a broad scope, some sections provide helpful information on drugs and alcohol.
In the United States, this agency enforces the laws and regulations concerning controlled substances.
Under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NLM provides information services. Health information, including substance abuse disorders, is high-quality and relevant on this site.
This government agency offers resources related to alcohol-related health problems. The NIH administers this agency.
NIDA aims to advance knowledge about the causes and consequences of drug abuse and addiction in the United States. One of NIH’s institutes, this organization is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Its mission is to improve the lives of people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Health & Human Services handles it.
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