How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Georgia

By Staff Writer

A substance abuse counselor completes specialized training to help clients overcome addiction and cope with the stress of everyday living. Often, these counselors work in conjunction with other specialists to provide collaborative care that helps clients rebuild their lives and move forward with their relationships.

Demand for qualified substance abuse counselors continues to grow in Georgia and nationally as courts turn to treatment rehabilitation instead of incarceration for people convicted on drug charges. Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 22% increase in jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. In Georgia, the BLS anticipates 24.5% growth, with more than 140 employment openings each year. The average substance abuse counselor earns $47,050 each year in Georgia.

When exploring how to become a substance abuse counselor in Georgia, consider your level of education, work experience, and specialized training. The state offers multiple certification routes to ensure that individuals seeking addiction treatment receive high-quality service from knowledgeable practitioners. Use this guide to help you determine the best path for your Georgia counseling career.

The average substance abuse counselor earns $45,150 each year in Georgia, and the Warner Robins metropolitan area ranks among the top-paying cities for this profession, with an annual mean wage of $62,910.

When exploring how to become a substance abuse counselor in Georgia, consider your level of education, work experience, and specialized training. The state offers multiple certification routes to ensure that individuals seeking addiction treatment receive high-quality service from knowledgeable practitioners. Use this guide to help you determine the best path for your Georgia counseling career.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Georgia

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in Georgia here

Education and Experience Requirements

Georgia recognizes professional substance abuse counselor certifications earned through the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) and the Georgia Addiction Counselors Association (GACA). The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Certification Board administers IC&RC certifications. Each organization offers multiple levels of certification, with entry-level certifications available to individuals with a high school diploma.

Academic Requirements

An undergraduate degree prepares Georgia chemical dependency counselors to take advanced certification exams for both the certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC) and certified addiction counselor (CAC) credentials. While neither requires a specific undergraduate degree, courses in human development, behavioral health, and psychology help students prepare for the specialized certification training and may reduce the number of training hours required.

Students should ensure their colleges hold regional or national accreditation. Accreditation signals that schools have undergone an independent review of their curricula and services and that student credits will transfer to the graduate level.

Individuals interested in providing clinical services need advanced education in social work, counseling, or mental health. The certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor certification requires a master's degree in a behavioral health field. GACA offers a certified clinical supervisor license to candidates with active state licensure in a counseling field, which requires a master's degree. Visit this page to learn more about counseling education and careers.

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

Becoming a substance abuse counselor requires specialized training in areas of alcoholism, drug abuse, or related subjects. Courses typically include instruction in counseling ethics and professional responsibilities, and students should also understand core counseling functions like screening, treatment planning, collaboration, and client engagement. The state evaluates training programs and ensures counselor competency through certification exams, transcript evaluations, and supervisor recommendations.

depending on the certification level sought, up to 135 hours of college courses can be accepted toward the certification requirements

Specific training requirements depend on the type of certification sought: the CAC or CADC certification. Training requirements focus on hours of classroom instruction, with 180 hours required for a CAC-I license and 270 hours for a CAC-II. Students can expedite their training by taking relevant college-level courses; depending on the certification level sought, up to 135 hours of college courses can be accepted toward the certification requirements. Georgia also requires at least six hours related to telehealth services.

CADC credentials require at least 300 hours of training beyond the degree that cover 12 core competencies for addiction counseling. At least six hours must focus on professional ethics.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

Students must take part in practical learning experiences to qualify for certification. The CAC license requires 220 hours of practical experience under the supervision of a certified clinical supervisor.

CADC certifications require 200 or 300 hours of supervised clinical work, depending on the certification level sought. Students should work directly with clients for most of the experience and gain an understanding of the documentation and paperwork necessary to track client progress and provide any required reports.

The Exam and Application Process for Georgia Substance Abuse Counselors

The Georgia counselor board — the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Certification Board of Georgia (ADACBGA) — believes certification helps clients find qualified service providers, ensures the use of industry-standard practices, and demonstrates commitment to the substance abuse counselor profession.

The state offers certification through ADACBGA or the Georgia Addiction Counselors Association (GACA). Both require training and education hours, supervised practicums and internships, and a rigorous exam, but the specific requirements vary for each certification. Applicants must also complete a criminal background check. Individuals with felony charges or convictions must provide evidence of compliance with probation requirements and no new charges.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor

Certification requires 300 hours of training and 300 hours of supervised practice. Level I certification requires three years or 6,000 hours of work experience, and level II certification requires two years or 4,000 hours of work experience. The advanced certification requires a master's degree in a human services field.

Applicants must pay a $150 application fee and $180 test fee. IC&RC administers the exam on behalf of the Georgia counselor board.

Certified Addiction Counselor

Candidates must hold membership in GACA to seek certification. After completing the required training programs, individuals must accumulate 4,000 hours of work experience within five years for the level I certification. The level II certification requires 6,000 hours of work experience within the past eight years.

GACA uses the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals exam. Applicants must pay the $150 application fee and $145 annual membership fee. The exam costs $150 for the first test and $180 for retests.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Chemical dependency counselors from other states may offer services in Georgia so long as the state provides the same credentials. Be sure to contact ADACBGA before moving. Georgia only offers reciprocity for currently active certifications, and you must complete an application that details your training, supervision, and work experience and pay the application fee. Because each state sets its own standards, ADACBGA recommends starting the reciprocity process before you move to mitigate any delays that may occur.

GACA considers applicants for reciprocity on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements for work experience, clinical supervision, and substance abuse counselor education and pass an equivalent written examination. Your credentialing agency must also provide reciprocity for Georgia association certifications. The organization also requires two professional references and an application fee.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Both the CADC and CAC certifications remain valid for two years from the time issued. You will pay a $150 recertification fee for the CADC certification. CAC recertification costs $100 for members and $200 for nonmembers. Both certifications require ongoing continuing education to ensure practitioners remain current in counseling best practices, research, and changes in law.

CADC certifications require five hours of education specifically in ethics and three in telemental health. Certification holders must also complete 10 hours of training approved by a Georgia counselor board. The GACA requires six hours of ethics instruction and 20 hours of association-approved courses for renewals.

Both the CADC and CAC certifications remain valid for two years from the time issued

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Georgia

As a substance abuse counselor, you must seek out continuing education, professional mentorship, and appropriate resources to help your clients overcome addiction. The resources below offer educational content, referral information, and continuing education opportunities. With them, you can learn about ongoing prevention efforts and find the latest statistics on Georgia chemical dependency.

  • Drugs Don't Work This program aims to reduce substance abuse and chemical dependency among the workforce and promote drug-free workplaces. Employers earning certification as a drug-free workplace receive discounts on workers' compensation insurance. The program provides sample personnel policies and encourages limited drug testing. The program also offers intervention and treatment information employers can share with workers who test positive for drug use.
  • Generation Prescription Drug This campaign addresses the abuse of prescription drugs among teens and young adults. Funded by a federal grant, the program currently works in three counties identified as high-need areas. Efforts include prevention programs, public education, and intervention services.
  • Georgia Association of Recovery Residence This statewide affiliate of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences supports high-quality care for individuals seeking recovery services. The association maintains standards of care and a professional code of ethics. Monthly meetings offer networking and continuing education opportunities.
  • Georgia Council on Substance Abuse This organization works to support prevention efforts and remove the stigma related to addiction recovery. The council offers training for certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists, training them to run recovery groups and individual check-ins.
  • Georgia Parent Support Network Now in its 30th year, this grassroots nonprofit organization advocates for family-driven, comprehensive mental health services for children. Members hope to address service gaps through a mission of families helping families. Local chapters are active in 11 counties, and the website offers a host of resources for families.
  • Georgia Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Collaborative This collaborative agency brings together treatment and prevention specialists, researchers, and law enforcement agencies to address prescription drug abuse. The organization provides toolkits and resources for the community, delivers information on storage and disposal of prescription drugs, and shares data on prescribing practices.
  • Georgia School of Addiction Studies This annual event offers professional development, networking, and educational opportunities. The four-day event brings together prevention, treatment, and recovery professionals from across the state. This event launched in 2006 and remains the largest regional training event on substance abuse.
  • Georgia Teen Institute This youth leadership program offers a summer training session where teens can develop peer-focused prevention projects. They return home and implement those plans with support from the Gwinnett United in Drug Education Inc. agency. The prevention programs focus on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, along with risky behavior.
  • Center for Maternal Substance Abuse Child Development The Emory University School of Medicine offers research-based information about exposure to medication, alcohol, and illicit drugs during pregnancy. The center delivers training and workshops to providers across the state and serves as an information warehouse with comprehensive databases. The center also offers the MotherToBaby Georgia project, a free, state-wide program that connects mothers with experts in the field of birth defects.
  • Voices for Prevention V4P provides a unified voice for a coalition of prevention specialists, community members, service providers, and individuals committed to substance abuse prevention. They focus on advocacy for state and local prevention and treatment policies and programs, along with education on prevention issues.

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