How Can I Become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in alcohol and drug counseling. Read on to learn more about career options for certified alcohol and drug counselors along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

Certified alcohol and drug counselors help substance abusers defeat their addictions. These professionals, who are also called addiction or substance abuse counselors, help addicted individuals go through a program of addiction treatment, and recognize the causes and triggers of their substance abuse. See the table below for more information about this career.

Degree RequiredVaries by state from a high school diploma to a master's degree
Education Field of StudyCounseling
Drug and Alcohol Counseling
Key ResponsibilitiesEvaluate clients for drug and alcohol abuse problems
Provide individual, group, and family counseling for drug and alcohol abuse treatment
Devise treatment plans to help individuals overcome drug and alcohol abuse problems
Maintain records as required by local laws and regulations
Licensure/CertificationVarious levels of certification are available from different certifying bodies
Some states require a license in addition to certification
Job Growth (2012-2022)31%*
Mean Salary (2013)$41,090*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Would I Have as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor?

Alcohol and drug counselors help substance abusers defeat addiction. These professionals, also called addiction or substance abuse counselors, work with addicts to develop a treatment plan and help them recognize the causes of their substance abuse.

Working as a certified alcohol and drug counselor, you would help abusers develop a healthy lifestyle and adopt sober coping mechanisms so they can quit using alcohol and drugs. You gauge which clients are suitable for treatment programs, counsel them and develop a continuing recovery plan for after their discharge. You keep a case history on your clients and the status of their recovery. You might also judge the sobriety of your clients by administering Breathalyzer or urine tests. Additionally, you could work with friends and family members of your patients to help them cope with the impacts of substance abuse. Some also run prevention and education programs in the community.

What Education Should I Get?

The education you need to become a certified alcohol and drug counselor depends on state licensing regulations and certification requirements. Check the licensing requirements in the state where you plan on working before choosing your educational program. You might need to earn a degree to become a licensed or certified alcohol and drug counselor. Each state has different licensing requirements for substance abuse counselors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which noted that some states require only that counselors graduate from high school and get certified (

What Standards Must I Meet for Certification?

The National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) awards three certifications via the National Certification Commission. These include National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) I and II and Master Addiction Counselor (MAC). There are different education, training, testing and experience requirements for each. Some states let you use the NAADAC certification test to obtain a state license. In states that don't allow that, you need to get a state license prior to taking NAADAC's test for national certification.

For NCAC I certification, you must be a state-licensed alcohol or drug counselor with three years of substance abuse counseling experience and 270 hours of schooling and training in substance abuse and other relevant counseling topics, according to NAADAC. The NCAC II certification requires a bachelor's degree with a concentration on substance abuse counseling from an accredited school, plus a state license, five years of substance abuse counseling experience and 450 hours of schooling and training. To earn MAC certification, you must have attended an accredited school and earned a master's degree in counseling, family therapy, nursing, psychology, social work or another healing arts discipline with a concentration on substance abuse counseling. You also must have a state license, three years of counseling experience and 500 hours of counseling training to get MAC certification.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) also offers certification for alcohol and drug counselors. You need at least a master's degree in counseling plus 3,000 hours of counseling experience to seek certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC). You must have already earned NCC certification and met other training and experience requirements to seek certification as a Master Addictions Counselor (MAC).

What Are Salaries and Job Growth Potential?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in 2013 was $41,090. In the years 2012 to 2022, projected job growth is estimated to be 31%, a rate much faster than average. This suggests that the job market for certified alcohol and drug counselors should be very favorable now and in the coming years.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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