Working as a substance abuse counselor in California is a personally and professional rewarding career option. Demand for these counselors is expected to grow by 18% between 2014 and 2024, by which time there will be 11,000 licensed professionals throughout the state. Once licensed, these counselors work closely to help individuals overcome addictions and correct self-destructive behaviors. They also work with families to heal the damage caused by addiction to drugs or alcohol. The work may not be easy, but it is extremely important and extremely rewarding as a result. If you believe this is a role you could thrive in, explore the exact substance abuse licensure requirements in California.

Types of Licensure in California

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The National Council for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) provides accreditation to agencies that certify substance abuse counselor in California. As of 2018, the NCCA recognizes two agencies in the state - California Association of DUI Treatment Programs (CADTP) and the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP). The California Department of Health Care Services permits anyone with active certification from either of these programs to work as a substance abuse counselor in the state. No further licensure is required. The requirements of both certification programs are similar, and candidates will find an equal number of job opportunities with either credential.

Earning CADTP Certification

The CADTP offers several forms of certification, each with its own requirements for education and experience. The specific steps for earning each certification are outlined below:

CADTP Alcohol/Other Drug Counselor - CAODC

  • Register with the CADTP as an applicant for certification. Registrants are required to sign a statement agreeing to abide by a code of ethics. They must also complete a nine-hour orientation course. Afterwards, registrants have 5 years to complete the remainder of the requirements. During that time they are required to renew their registration on an annual basis by paying a renewal fee, completing 6 hours of ethics and confidentiality training, and outlining their education/professional activities throughout the previous year.
  • Complete 315 hours of formal classroom training focused on alcohol and drug abuse. Counselors must have at least 45 hours (3 semester credits) in each of the following content areas:
    • Introduction and Overview
    • Physiology and Pharmacology of Alcohol and Other Drugs
    • Law and Ethics
    • Case Management: Assessment, Orientation, Treatment Planning and Relapse Prevention/Aftercare Planning
    • Individual, Group, and Family Counseling
    • Supervised Practicum
  • Complete 160 hours of supervised training.
  • Complete 2,080 hours of paid or unpaid work as a substance abuse counselor.
  • Earn a passing grade on the Alcohol & Drug Counselor (ADC) exam administered by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).

CADTP Alcohol/Other Drug Counselor - Advanced CAODC-A

  • The requirements for this certification option are the same, except candidates must complete 380 hours of formal classroom training and have 5 years (10,000 hours) of documented experience working as a substance abuse counselor.

CADTP Alcohol/Other Drug Counselor – Clinical Supervisor CAODC-CS

  • Complete 450 hours of formal classroom education related to alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Finish 5 years/10,000 hours of general clinical experience.
  • Finish 2 years of clinical supervision experience. This requirement may be earned concurrently with the previous requirement.
  • Complete 40 hours of clinical supervision education courses.

Renewing a CADTP Certification

  • Renewal is required every two years for all substance abuse counselors in California. A renewal application must be submitted no later than 30 days before the certification expires.
  • Counselors must complete 40 hours of continuing education within that period, including 3 hours on ethics and confidentiality specifically. Verification of completion must also be included with the renewal application.
  • A renewal fee is required based on the type of certification being renewed.

Earning CCAPP Certification

The CCAPP also offers a range of certification options. Importantly, they also offer a credential to counselors still completing their initial education. This credential may help students secure a job before becoming a full-certified counselor. The specific steps for earning each certification option are outlined below:

Registered Alcohol Drug Technician - RADT

  • Complete an approved nine-hour course covering ethics, confidentiality, and professional boundaries. Multiple options are available, but one is offered specifically through the CCAPP.
  • Complete the RADT application
  • Sign code of conduct forms issued by the CCAPP and the State of California.
  • Pay a fee and submit a copy of your driver’s license.

Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor 1 – CADC1

  • Complete 315 hours of formal classroom education as part of either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program focused on Behavioral Science or an Allied Mental Health Profession. Counselors must earn at least 45 hours in each of the following areas.
    • Introduction and Overview
    • Physiology and Pharmacology of Alcohol and Other Drugs
    • Law and Ethics
    • Case Management: Assessment, Orientation, Treatment Planning and Relapse Prevention/Aftercare Planning
    • Individual, Group, and Family Counseling
    • Personal and Professional Growth
    • Supervised Practicum
  • Complete 255 practicum hours. If completing a bachelor’s degree these hours must be earned as part of a formal internship.
  • Complete 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. If earning a bachelor’s degree all of the practicum hours may be applied. If earning an associate’s degree only 95 practicum hours apply, but candidates must only complete 2,080 hours of supervised work experience overall.
  • Earn a passing score on the IC&RC ADC examination

Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor 2 – CADC2

  • In addition to completing the requirements to earn CADC1 certification, these counselors must complete an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience for a total of 6,000 hours. Hours earned while completing a bachelor’s degree may not be applied.

Licensed Advanced Alcohol Drug Counselor - LAADC

  • Earn a master’s degree in Behavioral Science or an Allied Mental Health Profession including at least 300 hours of education specific to alcohol/drug counseling and six hours specific to professional ethics.
  • Carry professional liability insurance providing at least $1.3 million in payment per incident.
  • Complete 4,000 hours of work experience.
  • Complete the following training programs from a provider approved by the CCAPP - 10 Hours in Private Practice, and 40 Hours in Screening for a Co-Occurring Disorder.
  • Earn a passing score on the IC&RC AADC Exam.

Licensed Advanced Drug Counselor Supervisor - LAADC-S

  • In addition to completing the requirements to earn the LAADC certification, counselors must complete 45 hours of clinical supervision education.
  • These counselors must earn that same 4,000 hours of work experience as a counselor with LAADC certification, but 2,080 hours must be completed after finishing a graduate degree program.

Renewing a CCAPP Certification

  • Renewal is required every two years for all forms of certification with the exception of RADT.
  • In order for a certification to be renewed, counselors must complete 40 hours of continuing education from a provider approved by the CCAPP. At least six of those hours must be focused on professional ethics. They must also complete 10 hours of professional development from any event/organization intended to enhance professionalism.
  • Anyone with an RADT certification is required to submit proof of completion of at least 45 hours of addiction education each year. Those hours are applied towards the 315 total required to earn CADC certification.

Passing the IC&RC Exam

All certified substance abuse counselors in California must pass an exam administered by the IC&RC. Since the exam requires a fee and extensive preparation, there is a strong incentive to pass it the first time. Here is some information to help first-time test takers.

  • The exam is administered electronically at a designated testing center. Centers are located throughout California in the following locations:
    • Burbank
    • Calimesa
    • Ceres
    • Fresno
    • Long Beach
    • Riverside
    • San Diego
    • Sunnyvale
    • Van Nuys
  • On the day of the test candidates are required to bring a photo ID and the Candidate Admission Letter from the local member board of the IC&RC.
  • The exam consists of 125 multiple-choice questions administered over a three-hour period. The questions break down into four domains:
    1

    Screening, Assessment, and Engagement

    2

    Treatment Planning, Collaboration, and Referral

    3

    Counseling

    4

    Professional and Ethical Responsibilities

  • Scores are determined based on the number of questions answered and the number of correct answers. Scores are reported on a scale of 200-800, and a score of 500 is considered the minimum passing grade.
  • Candidates are given unofficial scores immediately after finishing the test but it may take several weeks to receive official scores.

Professional Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors

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Participating in professional organizations is a great way for substance abuse counselors to learn new skills, develop additional credentials, and contribute to the professional dialogue. Whether to earn required continuing education or to purse a promotion, consider joining or simply following of these associations focused on substance abuse recovery:

  • American Academy of Addiction Psychology
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine
  • American Society of Addiction Psychology
  • The Association for Addiction Professionals
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers
  • International Association of Addiction and Offender Counselors