How To Become A Certified Addiction Counselor

How to Become a Certified Addiction Counselor

Do you like helping people out, especially those who are addicted to substances? Then you should consider a career in addiction counseling. This job is all about giving the necessary support for people with drug, alcohol, gambling, or food addictions. By establishing a trusting relationship with your patients, you get to help them tread the road to recovery.

Become a Certified Addiction Counselor

State Certification

According to the Academy for Addiction Professionals, these are the basic requirements for aspiring counselors:

1. Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC)

A. Education

The basic requirement for aspiring counselors is a high school diploma or GED and an Associates/Vocational degree or higher.

B. Work Experience

High school graduates need to have 6,000 hours of related experience. AA/Vocational grads and those holding non-related bachelor’s degrees need to have 5,000 hours of experience.

The requirement for bachelor’s degree holders in a related field is lower at 4,000 hours.

Master’s degree holders only require 2,000 hours of relevant experience.

C. Supervision

The applicant requires 300 hours of direct supervision from a licensed professional. Documentation of a minimum of 10 hours per practice dimension should be accomplished.

D. Training

A minimum of 270 training hours is essential.

At least 130 hours should be dedicated to the following specializations:

  • Counseling – 30 hours
  • Ethical and professional responsibilities – 30 hours
  • Clinical Evaluation – 25 hours
  • Treatment planning – 15 hours
  • Case management and referral – 10 hours
  • Client, family, and community education – 10 hours

A minimum of 120 hours should be allocated to the following activities:

  • Treatment Knowledge and Understanding Addiction – 70 hours
  • Professional Readiness and Practice Application – 70 hours
    • This should include 2 hours of training in Domestic Violence and another 4 hours for HIV/AIDS.

E. Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation should be submitted to the state licensing board.

F. Criminal Background

You should have a clean criminal history, including sanction release, within the 3 years before your application.

G. Exam

The applicant should have a passing score required by the state. An international exam may be taken for reciprocity purposes.

2. Certified Addiction Professional (CAP)

The state confers this highest designated post to addiction specialists. As such, you need to satisfy several additional requirements.

The basic requirement here is a bachelor’s degree. This compared to the CAC that admits high school degree/GED holders.

The work experience should cover 6,000 hours, and these should have been accomplished within the last 10 years.

The training requirement, on the other hand, is higher at 350 hours.

3. Master’s Level Certified Addiction Professional

Master’s degree holders can take this certification for additional recognition and better career prospects. As the name suggests, a Master’s degree is the primary requirement for this license. Psychiatric Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners may seek this certification as well.

The work experience needed is 4,000 hours. The training hours needed, however, is similar to that of CAP applicants at 350 hours. 144 of these should be devoted to transdisciplinary functions.

National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC)

Once you have obtained a state credential, you can also apply for a National Certified Addiction Counselor License. The National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) awards this certification.

National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC)

While this is voluntary, it can help improve your career opportunities and boost your earning potential. This also shows your adherence to the highest ethical standards expected of Addiction Professionals.


There are 2 levels for NCAC certification. The first is NCAC I.

To apply, you need to have a high school diploma or GED and state certification. Additionally, you need 6,000 supervised hours or 3-years of full-time work with an Addiction Counselor.

You also need to complete a total of 270 hours of education. These should include 6 hours of ethics training and another 6 hours of HIV/pathogen education. These should have been taken within the last 6 years.

To get this license, you need to pass either the NCAC level one test or the ADC exam via the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC).


Apart from the above-mentioned requirements, you will need 450 education hours instead of the 270 hours for NCAC I.

To get this certification, you need to get a passing score with any of the exams:

  • NCAC level two test
  • eMAC exam via the National Board of Certified Counselors
  • AADC test via the ICRC

Master Addiction Counselor (MAC)

The MAC certification is a voluntary accreditation program for those who have finished graduate studies. As such, this requires applicants to have a Master’s degree or higher in Substance Addiction or related courses (Mental Health Counseling, Social Work, Psychology, or Medicine). The contact education required is higher at 500 hours.

You can procure this license by either passing the MAC, eMAC, or AADC exams.

National Board for Certified Counselors

Apart from having a state license and an NCAC badge, you can also apply for National Certification. The National Board for Certificate Counselors (NBCC), the biggest certification provider in the world, offers this licensure exam.

National Board for Certified Counselors

As a nationally certified counselor, you get access to low-cost liability insurance and counseling advocacy efforts, among many others.

To get this certification, you need to have a Master’s degree in a related field. This should include 48 semesters or 72 hours of counseling credits.

Your coursework, on the other hand, should be able to cover the following counseling-related subjects:

  • Helping Relationships
  • Human Growth and Development Theories
  • Social and Cultural Foundations
  • Group Counselling
  • Career Counselling
  • Field Counselling
  • Counselling Assessment
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Professional Counselling Orientation

100 hours of postgraduate counseling supervision is also required. As for work experience, you need to complete 3,000 hours’ worth of counseling in the last 2 years.

Accredited counseling program graduates, state-licensed counselors, or individuals with doctoral degrees in counseling need not complete these requirements.


If you are thinking of pursuing a career in addiction counseling, then you must have yourself certified. You can do this at a state level, and voluntarily through the NAADAC and/or the NBCC.

Being certified presents more career opportunities, apart from better salary increases. After all, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the job outlook at 25%, which is a rate faster than the industry average. By working on your certification now, you get to build a great career path for the future.

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