How to Become an Alcohol and Drug Counselor in California

Alcohol and drug counselors play a crucial role in developing and managing treatment plans that help people overcome addiction. It’s a critical job in a country where an estimated 14 million people have an alcoholism problem and more than 19 million Americans battle a substance use disorder.

In California, this important job requires earning certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC) certification. Some also increase their knowledge and add to their skills by enrolling in an addiction counseling master’s program online. By taking this path, they better prepare themselves for a career as a substance abuse counselor.

What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor works with those with a substance use disorder, including abuse of alcohol or drugs. People once viewed people with substance abuse issues as exhibiting a moral failing. However, scientists ended that antiquated way of thinking by proving substance abuse is a brain-based condition that involves genetics, brain circuits, a person’s environment, and personal experiences.

Graduates from an addiction counseling master’s program online apply that research to help individuals and groups overcome addiction issues. They also act as a case manager, referring patients to other programs and types of support, such as job placement services and support groups.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists various job duties for substance abuse counselors, including:

  • Evaluating clients’ mental and physical health and assessing their readiness for treatment
  • Developing treatment goals for clients and their families
  • Assisting clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from addiction
  • Working with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with recovery
  • Documenting clients’ progress
  • Teaching clients’ family members about addiction and helping them develop strategies to support clients in recovery
  • Referring clients to other resources and services, such as job placement and support groups
  • Preparing clients for transition out of counseling
  • Conducting outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction

There is high demand for substance abuse counselors in California and around the country. The BLS projects 22 percent growth in the field nationwide by 2031. California employs more substance abuse counselors than any other state.

Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor Certification in California

In California, aspiring alcohol and drug counselors must get the required education, initial on-the-job training, and supervised experience hours, then pass the credentialing exam. Many of those seeking to start a career in the field have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as a bachelor’s degree in social work or psychology.

California has several certifying organizations overseen by the State Department of Health Care Services, Substance Use Disorders Compliance Division (DHCS-SUDCD). Those organizations include the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, the California Association of DUI Treatment Programs, and the California Association of Alcohol/Drug Educators.

California law requires drug and alcohol counselors to have 315 hours of approved education, gain a minimum of 250 documented hours of supervised training, and an additional 3,000 hours of documented work experience providing counseling services. Counselors then must achieve a passing score on the IC&RC Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) exam.

Touro University Worldwide’s Addiction Counseling Master’s Program Online

Touro University Worldwide offers a Master’s in Counseling with an addiction counseling specialization that can prepare graduates to become substance abuse counselors in California or wherever the student lives. Every student should check license requirements for their state.

The 100% online program covers important areas California requires for aspiring counselors, including case management, physiology and pharmacology of alcohol and other drugs, law and ethics, and counseling best practices. Students can complete the 60-hour program in two years.

The program curriculum incorporates the California Board of Behavioral Sciences educational requirements. It is aligned with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards that may lead to licensure as a Professional Counselor, Professional Clinical Counselor (LPC/LPCC), or Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

Students learn theoretical and applied concepts from scholar-practitioners with years of experience in the substance abuse counseling field. The addiction counseling master’s program online also features a clinical component, including a series of clinical internships that allow students to apply concepts they have learned under supervision.

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