How Do I Become a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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A substance abuse counselor is someone who helps individuals who have an addiction to alcohol or drugs to overcome their addiction. The requirements to become a licensed substance abuse counselor will vary by jurisdiction; however, there are common requirements. As a rule, in order to become a licensed substance abuse counselor, an individual must complete his or her undergraduate education at a minimum, as well as pass the required state examinations and licensing requirements.

Although employment as a substance abuse counselor may be available without becoming licensed, most states within the United States have a governing agency that provides for the licensing of qualified applicants who wish to become a licensed substance abuse counselor. The benefits of becoming licensed are generally that the individual will be able to secure more lucrative employment, as well as employment with additional responsibilities and opportunities for advancement. Each state determines its own licensing procedures and required education, training. and examination requirements.

In most cases, the path to become a licensed substance abuse counselor begins with an undergraduate education in psychology, social work, or a related field. Many aspiring substance abuse counselors choose to further their education by completing a master's or doctoral degree program as well. The more education a person has, the more job opportunities he or she will have as a substance abuse counselor. Many hospitals and inpatient treatment facilities require counselors to have at least a master's degree in a related field.


In addition to an educational requirement, many states also require applicants to have a certain number of on-the-job training hours in order to become a licensed substance abuse counselor. Many students are able to secure an internship while in school or during school breaks that will count toward the required hours. Obtaining employment after graduation at a facility that works with individuals who have a substance abuse addiction is another way to gain the required on-the-job training hours and experience.

Passing a background check and successful completion of a state examination are generally the final steps necessary to become a licensed substance abuse counselor. Because of the sensitive nature of the job and the responsibility that goes along with treating individuals with substance abuse problems, most states require a thorough background check before issuing a license. An examination is also frequently required of all applicants for a counseling license in most states.


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