Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements and Pathways in Alabama

Alabama substance abuse facilities are under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. According to state regulation, counseling must be provided by persons who are qualified by virtue of their education, training, and experience. In some cases, they are licensed behavioral health professionals. There are, however, other pathways.

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Becoming a Qualified Substance Abuse Professional (QSAP)

State administrative code defines three levels of Qualified Substance Abuse Professional, or QSAP ( A QSAP I is a licensed professional; he or she may hold any of multiple designations, including professional counselor, certified social worker, or psychiatric nurse practitioner.

QSAP II and QSAP III are professionals with degrees in behavioral health fields such as social work, community rehabilitation, psychology, pastoral counseling, or family therapy. A QSAP II may hold a degree at the bachelor’s or master’s level, provided he or she has met requirements described in the standards. A QSAP III will hold a degree at the bachelor’s level and will also hold substance abuse counseling certification; he or she will have completed two years of work experience under the supervision of a QSAP I.

Substance abuse facilities may also employ qualified paraprofessionals. Qualified paraprofessionals, too, must meet requirements described in state administrative code. The minimum educational level is high school diploma or equivalency.

Achieving Counselor Certification through the Alabama Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association

The National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors has identified the Alabama Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association as Alabama's certifying body for substance abuse counselors. AADA is an International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC & RC) member board.

Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) is the IC & RC reciprocal level certification. Alabama candidates meet requirements on a par with those in many other states. A degree is not required for the certification (though it is required for Alabama QSAP status). The counselor will need to pursue some college education in order to attain the CAC. A degree at the baccalaureate level or higher can also shorten the timeframe to certification. A worker with a high school diploma or GED will need to accrue 6,000 hours of work experience, the equivalent of three full-time years. A bachelor's degree in a human service field brings the requirement down to 4,000 hours. This is the equivalent of two years – the timeframe that is required to earn Alabama QSAP III status. A master's degree brings the experience requirement down to 2,000 hours.

The prospective ADC must have 270 hours of education in core functions identified by the IC & RC. There are 12 core functions which correspond to duties substance abuse counselors typically perform when working with addicted populations. Among them are screening, intake, assessment, counseling, crisis intervention, and referral. Coursework is to be completed through an accredited college or university. The student will need at least six hours of ethics and four hours of HIV/ AIDS.

The trainee will have 300 hours of supervision devoted to the core functions. Credentials are reviewed before examination. The applicant will present a supervisor evaluation and three colleague evaluations. An approved candidate will take the IC & RC examination; this is a national certifying examination.

Advanced Certification

The advanced certification (AADC) requires a master’s degree in a related field. The experience requirement is just 2,000 hours.

Associate Level Certification

The Alabama Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association awards a technician level certification: Associate Addiction Professional. A substance abuse worker can achieve it after just 2,000 hours of experience. He or she will need 140 hours of education and 150 hours of supervision. The ethics and HIV/ education requirements must be met. A state examination is administered at this stage.

State Certification in Adolescent Addiction Counseling

AADAA also awards a certification specifically geared toward treatment of adolescent alcohol and drug use problems. Requirements for the Certified Adolescent Alcohol & Drug Abuse Professional are similar to those of the ADC certification. Education is to emphasize adolescent addiction counseling. The candidate will take a state examination. The CAADAP is not considered a reciprocal level certification.

Other Certifications Available through AADAA

AADAA offers other credentials such as co-occurring disorders certification and supervisor certification.

Requesting Reciprocity through the IC & RC

Certified substance abuse counselors can present IC & RC reciprocal credentials and request Alabama certification. They may request paperwork from the IC & RC or from their own state of certification.

Certification through the Alabama Association of Addiction Professionals/ NAADAC

The Association of Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) is a well-known national certifying agency for substance abuse professionals. The Alabama Association of Addiction Professionals is a state affiliate.

The first AAAC/ NAADAC certification that a professional will be eligible for is Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC); this is considered a state (as opposed to national) certification. A CAC or licensed counselor can go on to achieve National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) I and II credentials. The NCAC II requires a bachelor’s degree. It also has a higher work experience requirement: fully five years.

The Association of Addiction Professionals has provided a downloadable candidate guide for Alabama addiction counselors (

Additional Information

Information about addiction counseling certification is available from the Alabama Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association (

The Alabama Association of Addiction Professionals is another professional resource (

Many substance abuse counselors are licensed professionals. Students who are considering degree programs may wish to consult the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling ( and the Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners (

Additional information about the state’s substance abuse services is available from the Division of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services ( This is a newly merged division designed to provide a more integrated approach to health. Substance abuse services administrative code is available online (

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