What are the Different Types of Alcohol and Drug Counselor Certification?

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  • Written By: T. Forsythe
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2019
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Becoming a certified alcohol and drug counselor can be a rewarding career path for the helping professional. The International Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IADC) committee sets minimum standards for alcohol and drug counselor certification in 49 states in the United States and several countries. In the US, state boards are entrusted with adhering to these standards, and certification titles vary regionally. The most sought after alcohol and drug counselor certification are chemical dependency professional, certified substance abuse counselor, and alcohol and drug counselor.

In addition to state certifications, the IADC committee issues alcohol and drug counselor certification in ranked order, from entry level alcohol and drug counselors to clinical supervisor, for those counselors who would like to advance their credentials. Specializations offered internationally and at the state level include drug and alcohol prevention specialist and certified justice addictions professional. Substance abuse professionals with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) are required to have international certification.

Most states follow the general outline of requirements set forth by the IADC for obtaining an alcohol and drug counselor certification. Work or volunteer experience is required in the substance abuse field at a minimum of 4,000 hours. Education may be substituted for work experience at the associates, bachelors, and masters' level. Additionally, 315 hours of education or six courses is required in the modalities of professional counseling.


After an application is approved and all requirements met, a national or state test will need to be taken for certification. For example, the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) administer the test in that state. There is also a National Association of Drug Abuse Counselors test for those seeking national certification in the US. Both boards offer manuals online. Maintaining an alcohol and drug counselor certification entails earning 40 hours of continuing educational credits every two years.

For the education requirements, junior or two-year colleges commonly offer programs with courses that can be applied towards alcohol and drug counselor certification. Programs are approximately one to two years in length, although some programs may be completed in six months. Generally, six courses are required, including a field practicum course that can be combined as part of the work experience. Some colleges require that the applicants have six months to one year of experience in human services prior to admission in a counseling program. Better schools provide career placement services that will aid students in matching their interests and needs with an employer.

Addiction counseling is known as a particularly stressful occupation. Clients of a counselor with drug and alcohol addictions often have co-occurring disorders, such as mental illness or homelessness, that compound their situation. Counseling in this specialization requires a high degree of compassion and dedication. On the other hand, alcohol and drug counseling can give the personal satisfaction of making a direct impact on people's daily lives.

Exposure to the substance abuse field will enable prospective students to make a well informed choice as to which certification to obtain. Drug and alcohol counselors work in many settings, including hospitals, correctional facilities, youth organizations, and treatment centers. These organizations offer work and volunteer opportunities regularly to those that are not yet certified.


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