5 Steps to Becoming a Certified Addictions Counselor

Research what it takes to become a certified addictions counselor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does A Certified Addictions Counselor Do?

When individuals are affected by alcoholism, eating disorders, drug addiction or other behavioral problems they may see a certified addictions counselor. Certified addictions counselors are also known as substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. They meet with individuals struggling with addictions and behavior disorders, provide support to these individuals, and may implement a treatment program intended to help them with their recovery. This treatment may involve working on developing skills needed to cope with their challenges so that they do not give in to self-destructive behavior. They may work in hospitals, patient care centers or residential facilities.

Degree RequiredVaries by state from a high school diploma to a master's degree
Education Field of StudyAddictions Counseling,
Substance Abuse Counseling
Key Responsibilities Develop and implement treatment programs for individuals with addiction problems,
Counsel individuals, groups and families regarding addiction problems and consequences,
Keep treatment records as required,
Coordinate with other healthcare providers
Licensure/CertificationLicensure required in 49 states,
Certification may be accepted in lieu of license in some states
Job Growth (2014-2024)22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*
Mean Salary (2015)$42,920 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Certified Addictions Counselor?

Certified addictions counselors help people who have addictions to alcohol, gambling, drugs or who have eating disorders. As a counselor, you will identify addictive behaviors and develop strategies to overcome that behavior. You may work with patients individually or in group settings. You'll sometimes work with the family members who are affected. It may also be your job to help with prevention and awareness of the danger of substance abuse and addiction in communities.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

A master's degree is usually required to become licensed or certified addictions counselor. Master's degree programs in addictions counseling or substance abuse counseling focus on mental health counseling strategies, chemical dependency, family structures of addicts, ethics in addictions counseling, drug use in the workplace, pharmacology, counseling ethics, blood diseases and ethnicity in drug use. As part of a master's program, you'll likely complete a clinical where you'll spend time with real patients.

Step 2: Obtain a License

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 49 states require counselors to hold a state license (www.bls.gov). Requirements for licensing may include holding a degree in behavioral sciences, addictions counseling or related field, having work experience in the field and passing an exam. The National Board of Certified Counselors offers the National Counselor Examination (NCE) that some states accept in place of licensure (www.nbcc.org).

Step 3: Find Employment

According to the BLS, employment for addictions counselors is supposed to increase by 22% from 2014-2024, a rate which is much faster than normal and should offer excellent opportunities for employment. This should add an additional 21,200 positions to the 94,900 reported by the BLS in 2014. The mean salary for addictions counselors in 2015 was $42,920.

Step 4: Get Certified

The Association for Addictions Professionals (NAADAC) offers a number of certifications and credentials for addictions counselors (www.naadac.org). You may obtain Level I or Level II National Certified Addiction Counselor, Master Addiction Counselor or Tobacco Addiction Specialist certifications. You may also consider earning certification in conflict resolution, adolescent specialization or spiritual guidance, which are also offered by the NAADAC.

The NBCC also offers the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC). This exam tests your knowledge of assessment, counseling and treatment methods. You'll also be tested on drug use prevention techniques.

Step 5: Participate in Continuing Education

To renew your license or certification, you may be required to participate in continuing education. Continuing education may include attend lectures, completing courses or doing research within the field. The NAADAC requires 40 hours of continuing education upon renewal of certifications held through the organization. The NBCC requires renewal every five years and within those five years, you must complete 100 hours of continuing education.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, rehabilitation counselors, and school and career counselors all need a master's degree. They perform counselor services and provide supports to people coping with different personal issues, ranging from divorce to disability. School and career counselors typically work in schools, while other counselors may work in hospitals, clinics or residential treatment programs. Social workers may also provide counseling to their clients, although they also focus on assisting individuals with specific issues and helping them find the resources they need. Some social workers may work with those with emotional, mental or behavioral issues, while others may provide community supports. They usually need a bachelor's or master's degree.

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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  • Strayer University

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  • George Mason University

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  • Grand Canyon University

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  • Northcentral University

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  • Utica College

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  • Colorado Technical University

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