Helping people overcome their addictions and manage stress in healthier ways is the number one goal of the substance abuse counselor. Counselors start by evaluating an addicted person's physical and mental behaviors, which is the first step in writing an appropriate treatment plan.

But, prospective counselors must go through a lot more than completing a college education and calling it a day. Requirements will differ from state to state, and as such, you'll need to do a little background research before diving into a career as a substance abuse counselor in the state of Arkansas.

Overview

Substance abuse counselors work with people suffering from addictions to drugs and/or alcohol, and in some cases, behavioral issues and eating disorders. Counselors might work in hospitals, group homes, or rehabilitation centers and focus on evaluating clients' mental and physical health, as well as their addictive behaviors.

Upon evaluation, substance abuse counselors help the client put together a plan to get clean and stay clean. Counselors put together a complete recovery plan, as well as identify the roadblocks and behaviors that stand in the way of staying on their course of treatments.

Counselors don't just work with the person dealing with alcoholism or drug abuse, they also help the family cope with their loved one's addiction and help them develop the strategies needed to deal with the client's problem and support them through the challenges ahead.

In addition to working with patients and their loved ones, counselors will work together with other professionals such as social workers and psychiatrists, as well as courts ordering some offenders go to treatment instead of prison.

Overall, the profession is on an upward trajectory. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 22% percent growth in job opportunities between the years 2016 and 2026. As more people seek treatment for addiction, they will also need additional supportive services, creating a demand for counselors to work in detox centers, halfway houses and mental health centers.

Supervised Practice Requirements

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In the state of Arkansas, candidates must work under supervision for three or more years earning their Master's degree. While this may seem like a big commitment, the goal here is to ensure that the counselor in training knows the ins and outs of their profession before striking out on their own. In those three plus years, the candidate will learn how to deal with all kinds of people and problems.

In order for these supervised hours to count toward earning an independent license, the supervising counselor must be licensed and approved by the Arkansas board.

It's also worth pointing out that internships do not count toward this requirement.

If three years of supervised practice sounds like a lot to you, there is a workaround. Prospective counselors may substitute 30 credit hours of post-Master's degree coursework in counseling for one year of supervised work. Coursework substitutions may account for two out of three years of required supervised practice. Finally, out of those 3,200 hours of supervised work, 1,600 of those must be completed by working directly with clients.

Educational Requirements for Arkansas Substance Abuse Counselors

There are three tiers of licensure for substance abuse counselors in Arkansas—a technician, an associate-level counselor, and an independent counselor.

Associate’s

At the technician level, you’ll need an associate’s degree in a behavioral science, social work, or sociology. Technicians work hands-on with clients, but their career is done under the supervision of a Licensed Alcoholism and Drug Counselor (LADAC).

Bachelor’s

With a bachelor’s degree—again, in a behavioral science, you’re eligible to become a Licensed Associate Alcoholism and Drug Counselor (LAADAC). The extra education comes with an increase in pay from the technician level, but you’ll still need to work with supervision.

Masters

Finally, if you wish to become a Licensed Alcoholism and Drug Counselor, you’ll need to get your Master’s degree in a behavioral science field.

The key differences between the three tiers is the pay grade that comes with each education level. In Arkansas, the median pay for a technician around $29k per year. An LAADAC can expect to earn a bit more—around $45k, while the LADAC sees another bump--$55k annually.

Counselors at all levels can expect to work with clients on a hands-on basis—helping patients cope with addictive behaviors and carve a path forward in overcoming addiction.

hat said, obtaining a master’s degree will open more doors professionally. Lower level counselors must work under supervision while the LADAC has the ability to work independently.

Licensing in Arkansas

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Licensing is done through the State Board of Examiners of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (SBEADAC). This organization is a is a governmental entity, created by Arkansas statute.

Prospective counselors may look into the process further--Act 443 of 2009 lays out all the criteria substance abuse counselors must meet before they are eligible for their license. It also describes many exemptions where licensing may not be required.

One such example is, professionals who work with governmental agencies.

That said, if you're going the "traditional route" and plan on working with clients in a clinical setting, your best bet is getting your credential.

There are three levels of state licensing or certification:

  • Licensed Alcoholism and Drug Counselor (LADAC)
  • Licensed Associate Alcoholism and Drug Counselor (LAADAC)
  • Certified Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Technician (CADAT).

A Licensed Alcoholism and Drug Counselor must hold a master's degree in a related field. Generally speaking, this degree may be in psychology, marriage and family studies, or other mental health or behavioral sciences. A Licensed Associate Alcoholism and Drug Counselor, by contrast, only needs a bachelor's degree. Still that degree must be in a related area.

The LADAC and LAADAC candidates must meet similar criteria. Both licenses require the completion of 270 hours of approved education. And for those hours to be accepted, coursework must directly pertain to drug and alcohol counseling, research, or theory.

Both levels require that the candidate works for 6,000 supervised hours before they are eligible for their license. As we mentioned above, the supervised practice must be documented by a board-certified supervisor. Recorded by a registered clinical supervisor; a list of supervisors is available on the Board site.

At the technician level, which requires the least amount of education, one must still meet a specific experience requirement before they are eligible for their credential. CADATs have a more limited scope of practice.

The licensing act states that a technician cannot achieve counselor status without meeting the stated requirements. That said, a person can't rise through the ranks from technician to LADAC without first seeking higher education.

Finally, the board requires that all prospective licensees be at least 21 years of age.

Examination in Arkansas

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After completing your work requirements and your degree, you must take two examinations. There's a written exam and an oral exam. You may take the written test with National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). From there, you may submit passing results to the Arkansas Board of Examiners in Counseling (ABEC).

The oral exam must be taken with the ABEC directly and may be scheduled after the NBCC test.

About National Credentials

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Beyond meeting the Arkansas state requirements, counselors can enhance their employment prospects by getting national certification. The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals issues three levels of certification.

The first is National Certified Addiction Counselor Level 1 (NCAC 1). You'll get the NCAC 1 after completing 6000 counseling hours or three years of supervised work. The NCAC II requires the candidate to hold a bachelor's degree, have completed 10,000 hours or five years of supervised practice.

At the advanced level, there's the Master Addiction Counselor or MAC. As you might imagine, the MAC requires a master's degree relevant in a related area and 6,000 hours or three years of supervised practice.

Continuing Education

The Arkansas State Board requires 40 credit hours per year of continuing education credits. In this case, six of those hours must focus on ethics, 20 must be taken in person, and 20 must relate directly to substance abuse counseling.

Finally, getting involved with a professional association like the NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals opens up the opportunity to enroll in continuing education courses, get discounts on classes, insurance packages, and training.

Drug counselor education varies by state, so looking toward nationally recognized programs ensures you’re staying up-to-date on industry standards.

Getting national or international credentials makes you more marketable to prospective employers. It may also make it easier to get licensed in another state if you move at some point.

Arkansas Associations

Of course, to jump start the process, you’ll need to get acquainted with a handful of organizations. Here’s a quick look:

  • Arkansas Substance Abuse Certification Board—The ASACB is responsible for providing counselor certification to all Arkansas applicants. The website functions as a resource for applicants ready to take the exams or start their practice hours.
  • State of Arkansas Board of Examiners of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors—The state board responsible for overseeing
  • National Association for Addiction Professionals—This organization is both a professional association, meaning you can take classes and receive benefits by through the NAADAC, and is responsible for issuing the national exam.

Thinking About Becoming an Addiction Counselor in Arkansas?

As you can see, becoming a substance abuse counselor in Arkansas is a considerable commitment. Prospective candidates should be prepared to spend several years learning their craft, as well as complete continuing education on an annual basis.

Still, if you’re looking for a career that stands to make a real difference, becoming a substance abuse counselor is a fantastic way to improve clients’ lives, and better the greater society.