Become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor: Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Find out how to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in counseling.

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Chemical Dependency Counselor

Chemical dependency counselors, also known as substance abuse counselors, teach individuals to cope with addictions to alcohol or drugs. They might work with clients in a group setting or on an individual basis. Chemical dependency counselors assess patients and help them change their behaviors by discovering situations in their lives that might be making recovery difficult. Lack of resources and dealing with crisis situations can make this profession stressful at times.

Degree Level Minimum varies by state, but associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree may be preferred or required; private practice requires a master's
Degree Field Behavioral science, social work or related; counseling education required for certification
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure is required, eligibility requirements vary by state; specialty and national certification is available
Experience 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for licensure; counseling experience and post-master's supervision required for certification
Key Skills Strong verbal communication, people and listening skills, patience and compassion; familiar with related medical software, able to use related tools, such as alcohol analyzers
Salary (2018) $47,920 (mean annual salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Board for Certified Counselors, O*Net Online

Let's find out how to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor.

Step 1: Check Licensing Requirements

Check with the state for information on licensing requirements. All states require some form of licensure for counselors in private practice. But counselors who work with substance abuse are typically governed by a different state agency than other counselors. Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally include some combination of education and experience, and passage of a state-approved written exam. A licensing fee is usually required as well.

Step 2: Earn a College Degree

The minimum educational requirement to become a licensed counselor varies by state. For example, Ohio has four levels of licensure for chemical dependency counselors. The first level requires 40 hours of education in addition to practical experience working or volunteering in a counseling setting. The second level requires an associate's degree, while the third and fourth levels require a bachelor's and master's degree, respectively.

Some states require a master's degree as the minimum educational requirement for licensure. Typical bachelor's or master's degree programs for those going into the field of chemical dependency counseling include addiction counseling, clinical counseling, behavioral science, or psychology.

Step 3: Gain Practical Experience

Hands-on experience is often a requirement for licensure as a chemical dependency counselor. Some states require as much as 2,000 to 3,000 hours of clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Volunteer work in a chemical dependency or mental health facility, internships, and work experience are all generally accepted as experience.

Step 4: Attain National Certification

Chemical dependency counselors can attain a national credential by passing the National Certification Commission (NCC) exam, offered under the auspices of the NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. Some states permit counselors to use the NAADAC certification test to meet state certification requirements.

Counselors can earn four NAADAC credentials, including the National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC), Levels I and II, Master Addiction Counselor (MAC), and Tobacco Addiction Specialist (TAS). In addition, professionals can earn a qualification as a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) or an Adolescent Specialist Endorsement (ASE).

To be certified as an NCAC I, alcohol or drug counselors typically must be certified or licensed to practice in their state of residence and pass a written exam. Additional hours of training and supervised experience may also be required. Continuing education credits are necessary to maintain certifications.

Step 5: Stay Current

In addition to maintaining and earning new certifications, professionals can stay current by joining a professional organization such as the NAADAC. Such memberships commonly provide access to industry publications, job boards, and other field-specific opportunities.

In summary, a chemical dependency counselor must meet education and experience requirements to qualify for licensure. Specific requirements vary by state. National certification is also available in this field.

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