Getting Started


Steps to Becoming an Addictions Professional

Working as a substance abuse counselor can be a challenging and rewarding career. It is expected that the demand for addiction professionals will continue to grow for years to come. If you feel like this career path is for you, then here are some important steps to follow.


  1. Determine if this is the right career for you.
    • I can’t stress this point enough. Substance abuse counseling isn’t for everyone. Many counselors will burn out after a few years. Some will stick it out but become unhappy and ineffective. Do some research. Talk with counselors that have been in the field for a while. If you are in school then try to get an internship at a substance abuse facility. If not then do some volunteer work to at least get a taste of the environment. Read my previous post, “Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Addictions Counselor?
  2. Determine the requirements in your state.
    • Before you enroll in school or change your major, research the educational requirements in your state. Most states have multiple levels of certification and/or licensure. In many states you can at least get started without a college degree. Go to the State Boards page on this site and find your state. Some states have more than one board but you should find contact information for each of them there. I recommend that you look around their website. (Some are better than others) Then contact them directly either by email or phone. Most will be glad to take the time to answer your questions or at least direct you to someone who will.
  3. Get Educated
    • The amount of formal education and training that are required will be specified by your state. In most situations any social services degree will help meet this requirement. Be sure that the school that you enroll in is accepted by your state, particularly if it is an online school. In addition to formal education, it is also a good idea to start attending some conferences and trainings provided by your state board.
  4. Find a mentor
    • In most states you are required to have a certain number of hours of supervision. Requirements for supervisors will vary from state to state so make sure the supervisor you select will fulfill that requirement. Get more info about finding a supervisor at “Tips about Supervision.”
  5. Get Experience
    • Whether it is a paying job, internship or just volunteering, you will have to find a way to get some experience. You may be able to find some opportunities through your state board.
  6. Prepare for the Exam
    • In just about every state you will take an IC&RC exam or NAADAC exam. These are the national boards that most states are affiliated with. Many of the state boards will have study guides and practice exams. Some will even offer training to specifically prepare for the exam. You can also purchase study guides through Amazon or other bookstores.

Once you pass the exam you may then consider working toward a higher level of certification or licensure. In many states you could also consider specialty certifications such as gambling, co-occurring disorders or criminal justice. The steps that you take to become an addictions counselor may vary from the steps listed above depending on the state you are in and how far along you are in the process. Working with your state board and a supervisor is the best way to ensure that you don’t miss any steps.

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