Certified Addictions Counselor Education Requirements

Learn about the education and training required to become an addictions or substance abuse counselor and the job duties of workers in this profession.

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Certified addiction counselors work with individuals and groups to help them overcome their addictions. They may also work with family members to help them understand the problem. The job growth outlook for substance abuse counselors is much faster than the job market as a whole, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Information

Addictions counselors, also called substance abuse counselors, typically help people overcome alcohol, drug, and other substances abuse. Programs in addictions counseling are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. State licensing requirements may dictate the education needed.

Required Education Associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree
Other Requirements AAP or NCC certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*
Mean Salary (2015) $39,980 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors*

Certified addictions counselors advise and guide individuals suffering from drug, alcohol or other addictions. These professionals provide individual and group therapy sessions for clients to help them confront the underlying issues causing their addictive behavior. Addictions counselors also work with the family members of addicts, helping them to understand the problem. They may work as part of a team with other mental health professionals, including psychologists and social workers.

Undergraduate Education

Some states allow individuals to work in addictions counseling after completing a certificate or associate's program. These programs may include introductory coursework in human service, psychology and addiction therapy. Clinical experience typically encompasses a significant portion of these curricula. The hours of experience are often tied to the minimum requirements for state licensing or certification.

While there are some undergraduate programs specific to substance abuse counseling, students may also pursue bachelor's degrees in psychology, behavioral science or related-majors. The curricula of these programs include coursework in sociological theory, human behavior and statistics. Students may also take supplemental courses in clinical, developmental and abnormal psychology.

Graduate Education

Advanced licenses and certifications may require a master's degree. Clinical psychology, mental health counseling and related-programs offer an addictions counseling concentration. These curricula train students in diagnosing, evaluating and treating addictive disorders. Coursework may be devoted to important addiction topics, such as intervention, prevention and substance abuse within a family.

An internship at a healthcare facility is typically required for graduation. Internships may last up to a year and allow students to develop clinical skills by working with licensed counselors and patients. During an internship, students gain further insight into addictive behaviors and prospective treatment plans. Students also receive evaluations from the supervising counselor and faculty members.

Licensing Information

State licensing requirements vary greatly for addictions counselors. Some states have several levels of certification, each with different standards. Many states have minimum education-levels and experience prerequisites, in addition to successful completion of a licensing exam. Continuing education in the form of workshops or in-service training may be required to maintain eligibility.

Certification Information

The Association for Addiction Professionals, formerly the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, offers several levels of certification based on education and hours of experience (www.naadac.org). The most basic certification requires at least a state certificate or license, in addition to three years or 6,000 hours of substance abuse counseling.

Alternatively, the National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) credentials (www.nbcc.org). Individuals interested in becoming an MAC must first earn the NCC credential, which includes completing a master's degree program in counseling, accruing 3,000 hours of documented clinical experience and passing the certification examination. Once certified as NCCs, these professionals must then complete an additional 3,000 hours of counseling and pass the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors.

Salary and Career Outlook

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors were earning a median salary of $39,980 per year. Most of these counselors were employed in outpatient care centers and substance abuse facilities, according to the BLS. The BLS listed the field's highest-paying employer as hospitals, which offered a median annual salary of $46,290.

The BLS projects a 22% employment growth for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors between 2014 and 2024. This is much higher than the average growth rate for all U.S. professions and is attributed in part to the current trend toward treating rather than incarcerating those convicted of drug-related offenses.

Addictions counselor education requirements vary by state. Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs are available usually include clinical experience and may require an internship following graduation. Licensing requirements vary by state and may include specific educational requirements, clinical experience and passing one or more exams.

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