How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Colorado

Though one of the healthiest states, Colorado ranks in the top 10 for highest drug use and drug health issues in the U.S. As a result, substance abuse counselors in Colorado can find many job opportunities helping individuals deal with substance abuse issues.

This guide explains how to become a Colorado substance abuse counseling professional. The State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners regulates the licensure process for addiction counselors, offering four types of credentials:

  • Certified Addiction Counselor I (CAC I)
  • Certified Addiction Counselor II (CAC II)
  • Certified Addiction Counselor III (CAC III)
  • Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC)

The following information covers licensure requirements for addiction counselors in the state. This includes education and experience requirements, the exam and application process, and license maintenance and renewal requirements. Read on to learn more information about how to become a counselor in Colorado.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Colorado

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Education and Experience Requirements

Colorado's State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners requires licensed substance abuse counselors in the state to meet certain education and experience requirements. The following section outlines the academic requirements for each credential level, including the type of degree and specific counseling coursework. The supervised work experience requirements for Colorado counseling professionals specializing in addiction are also discussed.

Academic Requirements

Academic requirements for substance abuse counselors in Colorado vary from a high school diploma or GED to a master's degree, depending on the credential level. For example, CAC I and CAC IIs only need a high school diploma or GED.

CAC IIIs must hold an accredited clinical bachelor's degree in a behavioral health science field, such as social work, human services, or psychology. To practice in Colorado, LACs need a clinical master's degree or doctorate from a regionally accredited college. The degree should be in a field like clinical psychology, marriage and family therapy, or clinical social work.

Interested in pursuing an education in substance abuse counseling? See the following pages to learn about counseling academic programs by level:

Substance Abuse Counseling Coursework

Colorado chemical dependency counselors must complete coursework in areas like addiction counseling skills, professional ethics, pharmacology, client record management, infectious diseases in addiction treatment, and culturally informed treatment. Specific required courses include advanced motivational interviewing, professional practice, and co-occurring disorders.

The number of required training hours and specific courses varies by credential level. CAC Is must complete 112 training hours, CAC IIs require 126 training hours, and CAC IIIs and LACs need 56 training hours. Colorado counselors complete training courses online through the state's Certification Educational Requirements Tracking System. Applicants can submit proof of equivalent college courses in lieu of some of their required training classes.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

Colorado requires all substance abuse counselors to complete supervised practice hours to obtain licensure. The number of required hours varies by credential level.

  • CAC I (1,000 supervised practice hours)
  • CAC II (3,000 supervised practice hours)
  • CAC III and LAC (5,000 supervised practice hours)

The Exam and Application Process for Colorado Substance Abuse Counselors

The State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners regulates the certification and license process and provides information on how to become a counselor in the state. Prospective counselors choose from four credentialing levels: CAC I, CAC II, CAC III, and LAC.

Education and experience requirements vary by license. CAC I, which serves as an entry-level certification, requires a high school diploma or GED, completion of training classes, and 1,000 hours of supervised work experience.

Prospective counselors choose from four credentialing levels: CAC I, CAC II, CAC III, and LAC

CAC IIs can independently provide addiction treatment services, with the exception of clinical supervision. These professionals must meet all CAC I requirements and pass the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) Level I exam, take CAC II training classes, and complete an additional 2,000 hours of supervised work experience.

CAC IIIs can conduct independent addiction treatment practice and provide clinical supervision. These professionals must meet all CAC II requirements and hold a clinical bachelor's in a behavioral health science field. They must also take CAC III training classes, pass the NCAC Level I and II exams, and complete an additional 2,000 hours of supervised work experience in psychotherapy.

LACs must meet all CAC III requirements, hold a clinical master's degree, and pass the NAADAC Master Addiction Counselor exam.

Other required application materials may include application fees, a passing jurisprudence exam report, criminal history screening and supporting documents, a work verification form, and official college transcripts.

Out-of-state Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Licensed substance abuse counselors from other states can apply for a Colorado addiction counselor license through an application for endorsement. The application for endorsement requires prospective Colorado addiction counselors to submit proof of a current state alcohol and drug treatment license or a national certificate from NAADAC or the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium.

Applicants must submit an application fee, application form, work verification form, Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs (DORA) official certification verification form filled in by the state where the applicant currently holds a license, and proof of a completed DORA-approved jurisprudence workshop.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Addiction counselor licenses in Colorado expire after two years. Renewal applicants must complete 40 approved continuing education hours every two years. Applicants need to create a professional development plan before enrolling in these continuing education hours.

Applicants for renewal must submit a renewal fee and any status changes online. Applicants who do not submit their renewal application within 30 days of their license's expiration date must also pay a late fee.

Addiction counselor licenses in Colorado expire after two years

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Colorado

Current and prospective Colorado chemical dependency counselors can use this list of resources to network with other professionals, find licensing information, and search for job openings. The list also includes links to toolkits, best practices, and standards for use in clinical treatment. These resources consist of state-specific and national organizations in the substance abuse treatment field.

  • American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry AAAP offers training resources and information for students who want a career in addiction psychiatry. The organization also provides fellowships for future addiction psychiatrists.
  • Colorado Addiction Counselor Rules Students can read the official rules regulating the addiction counselor profession in the state.
  • Colorado Association of Addiction Counselors The state affiliate of NAADAC, CAAP represents addiction professionals in Colorado. The association offers professional development, education, training, community engagement, an annual conference, and advocacy.
  • Colorado Crisis Services This statewide resource offers help and information for people dealing with substance use, mental health, and emotional health crises. Individuals can get support via phone, online chat, text, or in person.
  • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment CDPHE offers information and resources that substance abuse counselors in the state can use to help their clients.
  • The Association for Addiction Professionals Founded in 1972, this group represents addiction professionals, including counselors and educators. NAADAC offers certifications, training, and education to addiction professionals. Students can also apply for its minority fellowship program.
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers Founded in 1978, NAATP serves as the addiction treatment profession's advocacy organization. The organization offers trainings, scholarships for students, publications, and career development information.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism One of the centers and institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health, NIAAA supports and conducts alcohol-related research. The institute also collaborates with other research initiatives related to alcoholism and disseminates research findings.
  • State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners Individuals can read about the laws, rules, and policies that impact addiction counselors in Colorado. They can also apply for a license, check their application status, and find other resources for substance abuse counselors in Colorado.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA offers extensive data, research, programs, publications, and news about substance abuse and mental health issues. The division's website covers topics like treating opioid use disorders and the risks of marijuana use.

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