Every day, the national drug addiction epidemic gets worse and worse. Rates of addiction are through the roof and overdose rates are obscene. The opioid crisis is just one of many public health problems, including alcoholism, methamphetamine, and addiction to benzodiazepines.

For this reason, the nation needs more and more interventions to come to the aid of the thousands of families, friends, businesses, and entire communities that are riddled with addicts. You can help solve the problem by becoming a substance abuse counselor. With the proper credentials you can help people find the solutions they need to surmount their chemical dependencies.

Though the general pathway to licensure as a counselor is fairly uniform across the states, each state has a specific set of criteria they use when licensing its substance abuse counselors. In New Jersey you still have to satisfy criteria pertaining to academics, experience, and examinations. This page will help you discover exactly what you need to become a substance abuse counselor in New Jersey.

Overview of the Substance Abuse Counseling Profession

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Substance abuse counseling is more of a calling than a job. Practitioners work hard to achieve state licensure and they continue working hard to maintain their licenses. It's a career that requires passion and dedication, because working with addicts is not easy.

Many counselors have been through the wringer of addiction and have emerged on the other side of that dark chasm. They have found a new life and a new happiness that they wish to instill in others. Others may have been touched by addiction in other ways, such as a family member who struggled with alcohol, or a friend who overdosed on prescription pills.

Work Environment

One of the chief places you might envision a substance abuse counselor working is in a rehabilitation center. If you have been through rehab you may have been inspired by some of your counselors and wish to now walk in their footsteps. Others are also considered chemical dependency therapists, such as mental health nurses, and even medical doctors who focus their practice on addictionology.

If you choose to work in a rehabilitation center, you have a wide range of options. Some centers are housed on sprawling campuses and include things like equine therapy, meditation classes, yoga, and nutritional approaches to addiction. Some programs are conducted at sea, where addicts learn to work as part of a team that manages a sailing vessel across vast stretches of ocean. There are also wilderness encounter organizations that help people achieve sobriety through a rigorous encounter in nature.

Addictions counselors also work in private practice. Perhaps you would like to work in a small, tastefully-decorated office where clients come for weekly sessions, or in a practice with a few other counselors.

Some private-practice counselors also do things like teach DUI classes to help inform offenders about the realities of alcoholism. Others work with attorneys to help their clients stay on track with pre-trial activities such as community service, counseling, and 12-step meetings.

Duties

Substance abuse counselors have many different sorts of duty. They more often are found utilizing the methods of psychotherapy to help clients get to the underlying root of their addiction. This might be in a hospital-type setting or private practice.

You could also find yourself working with the families of addicts as a part of your career. After all, addiction is known as a family disease and the work you do with a family could be just as beneficial for an addict as a one-on-one relationship.

Substance abuse counselors also teach. In a rehabilitation setting, they might teach academic-style classes that address relapse. There are a number of steps that typically come before a relapse and patients in a rehabilitation center will need to learn them prior to discharge. You can also teach things like the chemical impact of mind-altering substances on the brain and body, or the biology of addiction.

Is Substance Abuse Counseling for You?

You might think that there's a specific type of person who is best-suited to substance abuse counseling. However, counselors are a very diverse group. After all, they need to reflect the population at large. There need to be lots of former addicts, but also people with a more active lifestyle, or whose sexual orientation makes them more trusted by their clients.

What these counselors have in common, however, is a passion for helping people escape a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. They all thus have a tolerant attitude towards the addict and see that their problem is not one of morality, but of body and spirit. They might see that we all use various crutches to get through life, but substance abusers simply chose mind-altering substances rather than shopping or overeating to assuage their negative feelings.

Counselors also need to have a large dose of patience and tolerance. Addiction is not solved overnight and many, if not most, addicts will relapse at some point. Therefore, it's important to see therapy and rehabilitation as a marathon, not a sprint. You might also need to have a great deal of tolerance and compassion for addicts who may have acted very poorly in their using days. Some addicts resort to all sorts of lying, stealing, and cheating so that they can get another fix. Rather than taking a moralistic approach to these things, you will find it more helpful to see the bad behaviors as symptomatic of the addict's larger problems.

Types of Substance Abuse Counselors under New Jersey Law

In New Jersey, you can work with addicts as either a CADC or a LADC. A CACD is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, while a LADC is a licensed professional. The two credentials are quite different in how they are achieved.

Education Requirements

New Jersey's two levels of substance abuse counselor have very different educational requirements. Since the CACD is more readily attainable, many pursue that as a first step on the way to full licensure.

CACD Education Requirements

The CACD does not require that you have any special degree, or any degree whatsoever. Rather, New Jersey only asks that you complete 270 hours of education in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. You might take courses through a local college or university, or you might find an institution that has been approved by the NAADAC. Your education should cover five broad content areas which are covered in 54 hours each. Here are two examples of a content area and its required topics:

Assessment - Topics Case Management - Topics
  • Initial interviewing
  • Differential diagnosis
  • Physiology of addiction
  • Biosocial assessment
  • Diagnostic summaries
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Community resources
  • Consultation
  • Documentation
  • HIV Resources

The other three content areas are: counseling, client education, and professional ethics/responsibility.

LACD Education Requirements

In order to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, New Jersey requires that you have a master's degree. While it is preferred that your degree be in counseling or a related field, you can also supplement another master's degree with 18 semester hours of graduate-level counseling courses. You can spread your courses over the following topic areas:

  • Helping relationship
  • Counseling profession
  • Theory and practice
  • Lifestyle/career development
  • Human development/ maladaptive behavior
  • Individual assessment
  • Social and cultural foundations
  • Research and evaluation
  • Group therapy
  • Pharmacology and physiology

Examination Process for New Jersey

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In New Jersey, and other states, you must take a written exam prior to achieving either credential the state offers. You must also take an oral exam, for either the certification or license. The oral exam is administered by the Addiction Professionals Certification Board, Inc. The written exam is overseen by the NAADAC, a national association for addictions professionals.

Clinical Supervision Explained

Each level of addictions counseling requires that you undergo a period of clinical supervision. For the CACD, you will need 1,500 hours of relevant experience in the field. You will also need 300 hours of supervised time. To satisfy the state's board, your supervisor must be a licensed professional with current credentials registered with the state. During your 300 hours, you will cover the 12 core functions of a substance abuse counselor.

During this 300-hour period, you will want to log your time working on each of the 12 functions so you have a record to show the licensing board, or anyone else. This will help you and your supervisor make the most of your supervised time.

Typically, your 1,500 hours will be accrued over the course of twelve months. If you need to take time off or work part-time, the state has an allowance for that. Your hours must be logged within five years of your initial application for the credential. You will also need to attend 30 12-step meetings, including five from each:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Al-Anon

For the LACD, you will likewise need 300 hours of supervised time and attend 30 12-step meetings.

Licensure Renewal/Continuing Education

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To maintain your license or certification with the state of New Jersey, you must take continuing education units (CEUs.) The goal is to ensure that you are actively engaged with remaining up-to-date with your profession. You can study hot topics in addiction treatments and ensure that you provide the very best care to your clients.

For the CACD, you need to complete 60 hours of CEUs every licensing period. LACDs are required to complete 40 hours every licensing period. Note that a licensing period is two years. Your CEUs must be relevant to your profession and can be administered by an accredited college or university, or through a recognized professional association, such as the NAADAC.

New Jersey Professional Associations

To find CEU options, professional development opportunities, and fellowship with colleagues, it's recommended that you join a professional association. Consider the following:

  • New Jersey Counseling Association
  • New Jersey NAADAC
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers

Through the professional camaraderie and support of an association you will become the best possible counselor you can be.