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Accreditation and Credentialing Info

Licensing for drug addiction counselors vary by state, but the general minimum requirement for entry-level work in the substance use disorders field is a bachelor's degree. Even with a bachelor's degree, you’ll have limitations placed upon the scope of your substance use work. With a master's degree, passage of the National Counselor Examination and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, and many hours of supervised counseling, you can obtain full state licensure. Any school attended to gain entry into the mental health addiction counseling field needs to be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

If you decide to go into private mental health or substance abuse counseling practice, your rehabilitation facility must be accredited. Two such facility accreditation organizations are the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and the Joint Commission. Once you’ve achieved substance use disorders state licensure as a mental health addiction counselor, additional and optional certifications are often highly desired by employers.

The following list includes links and descriptions to substance abuse accreditation and certification agencies and organizations throughout the U.S. for drug addiction counselors and their rehabilitation facilities.


The American Board of Addiction Medicine was the first medical specialty board to provide substance use certification for physicians who work with diagnosis, drug abuse treatment, and prevention of substance abuse. They help recognition in the specialty of mental health substance abuse addiction treatment in the medical field.


The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology has an established certification examination program to ensure the full mental health substance use disorders qualification of psychiatrists and neurologists. They maintain a database of qualified substance abuse physicians who have completed rigorous training programs and examinations that certify their full substance use competency to work in psychiatry and neurology.


CACREP provides evidence based accreditation and standards for treatment programs that train Substance abuse and mental health counselors. Schools that are CACREP accredited streamline the process of licensure for their students. The classes have been reviewed to meet national standards in the Substance abuse and mental health profession.


The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities is a good source for an addiction counselor who would like to go into substance use disorders, Substance abuse, and mental health private practice. Substance abuse health care rehabilitation facility will need to be certified through this organization. CARF will also provide evidence based resources about mental illness rehabilitation facility guidelines.


The International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium provides an additional certification for substance abuse addiction counselors beyond the requisite state licensing. Some employers require this additional substance abuse certification. For those employers who do not, one can move up the substance use career ladder with the IC&RC certification.



The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification is another mental health certification that is optional for Substance abuse and mental health counselors. The CRCC certification is available to master's students and to students who have completed a substance use graduate program. CRCC also provides online courses that immediately post as continuing education credits.


Either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), or both are required for state licensure. Each state has different guidelines for licensure as a mental health addiction counselor working in a center for substance abuse. These examinations are under the guidance and control of the National Board of Certified Counselors.

The National Board of Certified Counselors also provides an optional substance use disorders certification for mental health addiction counselors who have graduated a master's program. Their substance use disorders certification is called the Master Addiction Counselor (MAC). Certifications by both the CRCC and NBCC are highly prized in the field and often lead to greater earnings.


The Medical Review Officer Certification Council offers certification and training for medical review officers. Medical review officers conduct workplace drug testing.


The Joint Commission is an accreditation body for U.S. healthcare organizations and plans. Of special interest to public health care addiction counselors is the behavioral healthcare accreditation for one's organization, if one chooses to go into substance use disorders private practice.

Student Services

In addition to looking for a CACREP-accredited school and program, it is important to consider which of the following programs you may need and/or desire as you complete your education and check if your prospective school offers these student services.

Post-Graduate Placement Center

It is certainly easier to enter the field upon graduation and meeting other licensing requirements when one can find assistance from a job placement professional at their school who has been working on behalf of students to keep contacts in the community for employment prospects.

Job Fairs

Schools also may offer job fairs on a regular basis that allow students to meet with recruiters for major mental illness rehabilitation firms that are hiring in the area or around the nation. This also provides a good opportunity to see what types of advanced substance abuse certifications are more desirable to employers.

Disability Services

State, federal, and local laws require schools to provide services for students with disabilities so that they have equal access to educational opportunities. This may include assistive technologies and also may include interface with a school liaison who will work to make the campus environment more inclusive. However, whereas every school must work to provide accommodations, some schools may offer a better experience because of funding or focus provided to their disability services personnel.

Counseling Services

Some schools provide either licensed mental health counseling services for students that are experiencing tough circumstances, or they may work with another provider that offers a panoply of services, such as psychological, legal, and financial advice. Online programs are more likely to offer the latter option.

LGBTQ+ Support

If you’re LGBTQ+, you may prefer a campus that has a LGBTQ+ resource center. Such centers are a nurturing space that often include discussion groups and mentors. Some schools have pride events. The idea is to provide the safe and secure space within which to be able to fully participate in campus life.

Student Ombudsman

The ombudsman stands at the intercession between the school and governmental guidelines. If you have a disagreement with your school about the rules and regulations, you can appeal the decision to the ombudsman. The ombudsman will work to mediate a solution between you and your school.

Tutoring Center and/or Writing Center

For students who struggle with reading or writing, the tutoring center is an ideal place to get help. The tutoring center may have evidence based resources that will help you format your papers. There will be tutors who can provide advice about grammar for written papers and help with proper writing style techniques.

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Evidence Based Study Resources


Drug addiction counselor students will need to write their class assignments using American Psychological Association (APA) style. One of the best online guides to APA style is on the Purdue Owl Writing Lab site. Beyond the guidelines, there are also sample papers to demonstrate the style. That page also has a tool that will automatically cite any website in APA style.


Independent testing by a writing teacher found that Grammarly will catch about 60% of typical student grammatical errors. Using Word alone will net about 30% of errors. Unfortunately, Grammarly is a tool which is not as helpful for ESL students or students who struggle mightily with grammar. It is helpful for a person who already has a reasonably good sense of grammar.


This online tool will automatically capitalize a title in one of four different writing styles: APA, AP, Chicago, and MLA.

Addiction/Counseling Associations

There are actually quite a few organizations that specialize in mental health substance abuse addiction recovery that allow students to join. This is a great opportunity because it allows you to network, stay abreast of changes in the mental health substance use disorders field, and often attend conferences and webinars at reduced fees. A few of the best organizations for drug addiction counselor candidates to join are:


NAADAC allows students who are taking addiction courses and those who are working through their internships to become members. Student membership fees are cheaper than the regular fees. Membership in NAADAC is so large that members are divided into state groups. Some state groups provide newsletters. State groups have local events.


Membership in this organization is conferred upon graduate students. This also includes membership in the umbrella organization, the American Counseling Association, which can provide evidence based professional resources. IAAOC evidence based resources include podcasts, webinars, conferences, and a newsletter and journal. An interesting tool found on the website is a decision matrix that helps one decide if a patient or the patient's family member may soon be the victim of domestic violence.


This group was designed for doctors who work with substance use disorders addiction. They have an associate-level membership for sponsored master's and higher-level health professionals and students. Students must spend 25% or more of their time working with patients. There are some really great benefits conferred with membership in ASAM. For example, members have an online subscription to the Journal of Addiction Medicine. They also have access to a tool called the ASAM Criteria, which is a guide to placement and drug abuse treatment of addicted patients. The members also receive the book, “Principles of Addiction Medicine: The Essentials.” There is also a member's forum, an e-learning center, and a career center.


This organization is for psychologists and students of psychology. It is a division of the American Psychological Association. Members receive the newsletter, the availability of interacting on the listserv, access to job announcements, and a subscription to the Psychology and Addictive Behaviors Journal. The amazing part of all of this is that the student membership is only $29 annually!

Open/Student Access Journals

In the past, research journals were only available to universities and other research organizations. Journal subscriptions can be very pricey. Individual articles can cost $40 and more. There is a new trend that research findings need to be accessible to everyone. This is called the Open-Access Movement. Open access journals are free for everyone to read online.

In the field of drug addiction recovery, four of the top peer-reviewed, open-access journals are:

Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment
Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy
Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is also a good resource for research journal articles on any subject. One can search by title, author, date, subject, etc. for research articles. The problem is that one will only be able to access some of the articles, not all of them. Other articles that are listed usually can be accessed by paying fairly pricey fees.

The good news is that your school will provide you access to research databases in your field. You can link your school's database to Google Scholar. When you have Google Scholar linked to your school's database, you will have access to many more of the research articles that Google finds through your school's database.

Available Degrees

Associate Degrees

Associate degrees in addiction counseling do exist, but these will not afford entry-level employment in the field. Associate degrees in the addiction field include:

  • Associate of Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling
  • Associate of Applied Science in Chemical Dependency Specialization
  • Associate in Applied Science in Addiction and Substance Use Disorders
  • Associate of Applied Science in Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Associate of Applied Science in Addiction Counseling
  • Associate in Applied Science Degree with an emphasis in Addiction and Prevention Studies

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree in public health care addiction counseling will gain you entry into the true work going on in this field, including work at a recovery center for substance abuse and counseling treatment programs. Undergraduate Level Degrees in Addiction Counseling include:

  • Bachelor's in Addiction or Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Bachelor's in Psychology: Addiction
  • Bachelor's in Behavioral Health: Addiction Studies
  • Bachelor's in Counseling: Chemical Addiction, Dependency and Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Bachelor's in Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies

Students with a bachelor's in mental health addiction counseling or a related field will find that they can obtain work in outpatient care clinics, nursing facilities, facilities for residential care of substance abuse, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, drug abuse treatment centers, and community groups. They will often need to perform supervised substance use counseling hours under a more experienced counselor with a master's degree in order to work in their target career.

Some potential job titles for a graduate with a bachelor's degree in addiction counseling include:

Substance Abuse Counselor/Behavioral Disorder Counselor/Addiction Counselor/Mental Health Counselor – Will work with someone who is dealing with addictions to help them overcome the drug addiction and put their lives back in order. The mental health substance abuse counselor must diagnose the issue and devise a drug abuse treatment program for the patient. The substance abuse counselor will often be interacting with family members, hospital personnel, psychologists, psychiatrists, and nurses.

Case Manager – These employees work in either hospital settings or at social service agencies. Substance abuse counselors work to create a plan of drug abuse treatment for the patient. Case managers will have a caseload of multiple substance abuse patients.

Behavioral Health Technician – The behavioral health technician will work in an in-patient or out-patient setting to help carry out and reinforce the drug abuse treatment program created by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a drug addiction counselor.

Crisis Counselor – The crisis counselor will attempt to help patients who are in a severe crisis. They will diagnose the issues and either provide public health care counseling or other services to help the client recover from the crisis.

Graduates of bachelor's programs in drug addiction counseling will find that they are unable to go into private practice until they have a master's degree and have fulfilled their internship hours. There are specific guidelines in each state that include passage of one of two licensing examinations, either the NCE or NCMHCE, both administered under the National Board of Certified Counselors.

Graduate and Master's Degrees

Common graduate degrees in drug addiction counseling include:

  • M.S. in Addiction Counseling
  • M.S. in Substance Abuse Counseling
  • M.S. in Psychology: Addiction
  • M.S. in Addiction Studies
  • M.S. in Rehabilitation Counseling
  • M.S. in Clinical Addiction Counseling
  • M.S. in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling

Some potential employment options with a graduate degree in public health care addiction counseling include:

Private Practice Addiction Counselor – The drug addiction counselor candidate will need to also complete their supervised hours as well as the licensure examination required by their state. A drug addiction counselor will work with patients who are struggling with the effects of addiction, devising a drug abuse treatment program, and help the patient achieve their full mental health recovery from drug addiction and its effects upon their life. Their work may be in a mental illness rehabilitation center, a hospital, a correctional facility, or inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.

Case Manager – Oversees a caseload of patients, diagnosing the problems and determining the proper drug abuse treatment program. The case manager may oversee other employees, such as behavioral technicians, in helping the patient achieve a full recovery.

Doctoral Degrees

These programs are often four years in duration. They will include a dissertation and likely an internship.

  • Ph.D. in Addiction/Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership – Healthcare Administration
  • Ph.D. in Psychology – Mental Health Policy and Practice

Some potential employment options with a doctorate in public health care addiction counseling include:

Mental health substance abuse counselors who are highly experienced and have completed relevant certifications and internship experiences can become supervisors in mental illness rehabilitation facilities. They can also become administrators, consultants, professors in universities, or drug addiction researchers.


Codes of Ethics


The NAADAC Code of Ethics for drug Addiction Health Professionals covers all aspects of public health care addiction counseling practice, including confidentiality, professional responsibilities, cultural sensitivity, responsibilities regarding social media, and publications.


HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It is a federal statute that imposes strict fines for disclosure of private information about substance abuse patients. Information must be kept secure and confidential, even when one is the answering service that takes the phone calls for the mental illness substance abuse rehabilitation facility.

The one area of exception in HIPAA to privacy in drug addiction treatment is between healthcare providers and when the patient has expressly permitted in writing that psychotherapy notes can be shared.


There is also a federal law by the national institutes of health that relates to privacy of information when someone is either in drug abuse treatment for substance abuse or is a subject in research. Privacy of information must be strictly maintained, except in the case of the possibility of serious bodily harm or death and only under court order or in the case of research shared between parties engaged in the research. Also, medical personnel can receive such information in the case of a serious medical emergency.

Addiction Counselor Professionals

Professional organizations in public health care addiction counseling can provide opportunities for networking, continuing education, staying abreast of new trends in the field, and problem solving. Professional organizations also tend to provide additional certification opportunities as well as being a source of newsletters, magazines, and journals. Substance use disorders counselors need to be constantly in a state of professional development, so they can best help their clients overcome their addictions.

Addiction counseling organizations include:


The Association for Addiction Health Professionals is so large that it is divided into state organizations. This provides members the opportunity for more local networking. NAADAC provides continuing education courses, a job board, certification opportunities and maintains the substance abuse licensing examinations used throughout the nation.


The American Counseling Association is an umbrella group for many different types of counselors. They have an online job board, and they publish the Journal of Counseling and Development as well as the journal Counseling Today.


The Association of Addiction and Offender Counselors provides an incredible array of resources that are more targeted towards drug addiction counselors.


The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network provides research about drug addiction for counselors and treatment facilities. They provide training and events to spread the word about new research in the field.


The American Society of Addiction Medicine provides quite a bit of information for students – a book, a journal, diagnosis criteria, an e-learning center, and a career center for substance abuse. The price tag is hefty, but if one is sponsored, it seems well worth the money.

Certifications and Study Resources

There are several organizations that provide advanced, optional certifications for substance abuse addiction counselors. One must ensure that the certification will help advance one's knowledge, skills, and/or earnings potential. This would be a good thing to discuss in the forums and listservs within the professional organizations. Reviews suggest that some of these certifications are required by employers. Employers who do not require these substance abuse certifications often prize candidates possessing them. Many of the certifications have required internship hours and all require examinations.

The following are some of the prominent drug addiction counselor certifications and links to study materials:


The IC&RC provides six advanced credentials by the national institutes of health that help addiction counselors specialize and move up the career ladder. The certifications are: Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, Prevention Specialist, Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional and Peer Recovery. Approved study materials are found on the bottom of the web page.


Students who are at the master's level and students who have completed a graduate program can achieve certification as a mental illness rehabilitation counselor. The goal of the organization is to advance drug abuse treatment for patients with disabilities. The CRC must be renewed every five years.


This certification is for drug addiction counselors who have completed their master's program, supervised experience, and their MAC examination. Test material links are found near the bottom of the web page.


This certification has even more stringent requirements than some of the rest. Requirements include certain coursework, internship and supervised hours, hours of experience, a professional endorsement, and an examination.


As in the Mental Health Counselor certification, there are coursework, internship, supervised hours, a professional endorsement, and an examination required in order to be certified in school counseling. Information, but no study guide is provided.


This substance use certification helps addiction counselors with a few years of experience and additional education pass an examination and receive certification. Study materials are at the bottom of their web page.

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Continuing Education (CE) Credit Sources

CRCC – Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification Online Continuing Education e-University - The CRCC provides e-courses that confer continuing education credits upon students.

CE Learning Systems – Addiction Counselor CE CE Learning Systems provides 438 addiction counselor continuing education courses that are approved by different state licensure boards. One can purchase the courses by the unit or in a package deal.

The Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) – Continuing Education The above sources of continuing education are all online. What is unique about the NAADAC offerings are that they are offered in a variety of modes. Addiction counselors can take webinars or attend in-person seminars offered by NAADAC. They can read the NAADAC magazine for one CE credit. They can also take independent study courses or attend conferences.

Treatment and Recovery Resources

The Support Group Project - A resource meant to help families cope with the strife of addiction. They provide listings of local groups around the nation that support families affected by addiction.

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator: SAMHSA - The Substance Abuse treatment and Mental Health Services Administration is a part of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides an online tool to locate substance abuse treatment facilities locally.

Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: What to Ask: NIDA -The National Institute on Drug Abuse created a PDF with five key questions that people should pose when trying to find the best substance abuse treatment program for themselves or a family member.

Alcoholics Anonymous - AA is the famous program that helps recovering alcoholics find the strength to recover from their addiction with the help of sponsors who have walked down the same path to successful recovery.

Narcotics Anonymous - NA is the companion program to AA in that it helps narcotics addicts recover through a step program with help from a sponsor who has successfully recovered from their addiction.

Helping Others Live Sober - Helping Others Live Sober has resources for people who are in recovery and for the health professionals who are aiding in that goal.

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous - Based upon the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, FA is an international organization that helps people who are obsessed with food, whether they are obese, bulimic, or anorexic, find happy and fulfilling lives free of food obsession.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - The National Institute on Drug Abuse has an amazing array of information on drug abuse. They track trends in drug abuse and have many articles on drug abuse, addiction, and recovery.

Recovery Month - Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a part of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hosts Recovery Month to help more people focus upon recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and find evidence based drug abuse treatment resources. They also post inspiring stories of people who have overcome addiction.

Office of Drug Control Policy - There is a National Office of Drug Control Policy as well as separate state offices. Each Office of Drug Control Policy's goal is to help end the use and abuse of illegal drugs. State websites often have evidence based drug abuse treatment resources and articles about new trends.