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Becoming an Addiction Counselor

Addiction Counseling is as rewarding as it is challenging, and proper training is the foundation upon which you will build your career. Welcome to the field!

Something powerful has brought you to the point where you are now considering a career in the field of addiction services. Whether it is based on your personal experience, family history, death of a friend, or simply a recognition that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States (even surpassing car accidents), you want to help those suffering from the disease of addiction.

NCADD’s founder, Marty Mann – who was the first woman to maintain long-tern sobriety through participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, made it her life’s mission to educate the public that alcoholics suffered from a true disease; and not only could they recover, they deserved to receive the help they needed to get well. To realize Marty Mann’s vision of making recovery available to everyone, the nation is in desperate need of trained addiction counselors.

As early as the year 2000, a report by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center estimated that nearly 5,000 new addiction counselors were needed annually to meet the nation’s treatment delivery needs – and that was prior to the Affordable Care Act and the explosion of prescription drug abuse in recent years.

Each state has its own specific requirements for obtaining Licensure or Certification as an addiction counselor. However, there are a number of common elements:

  • A college degree – some states do not require a degree to become certified, but most require a degree (and often a clinical master’s degree) to become licensed. The primary difference between Licensure and Certification in those states that have both is that licensed counselors are allowed to enter into private practice without supervision or to become clinical supervisors, whereas certified counselors must work under supervision of a licensed professional.
  • 270 hours of addiction-specific education. These hours are normally taken in the form of six-hour workshops. Many states now allow these courses to be taken via distance learning, such as through the online courses available through this site. In some cases, this coursework has been incorporated into specialized degree programs at colleges and universities.
  • Volunteer or work experience provided through a licensed addiction treatment program. Depending on the state and the level of college education a candidate possesses, this experience requirement ranges from the equivalent of one to three years full-time employment.
  • A supervised practicum. Typically, this is an intense period of supervision under a licensed professional who vouches that the candidate has had formal experience in all of the core functions of addiction counseling. This requirement normally ranges from 100 to 150 hours.
  • Attendance at recovery support meetings. This requirement is normally met by attending a combination of up to 30 AA, NA, Al-Anon, ACOA, etc. meetings.
  • A national exam administered by your state’s certification board. Most states use either the NAADAC or IC&RC exam.
  • A written case presentation. Depending on your state, you may be required to submit a written case to your certification board. Some states also require an oral defense of your case.

As you can see, there is much more involved to becoming a professional addiction counselor than simply a desire to help or an experience with personal recovery. The process normally takes at least two years to meet all of the requirements, so this is not something to be undertaken lightly. Before diving in, it is suggested that you first take a couple of the classes offered through this website to get a taste of the education requirements. Also, speak to those already in the field. Most counselors are more than happy to bring new members into the profession and will share their own experiences.

Visit the NJ Department of Human Services website for a comprehensive explanation of becoming an alcohol and drug counselor in New Jersey.