How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Iowa

Many people feel drawn to work as a substance abuse counselor because of the great personal satisfaction they gain from helping others. Many Americans struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, and highly skilled Iowa chemical dependency counselors can help them.

While Iowa has low rates of illegal drug usage and trafficking, the state continues to deal with substance abuse issues. Iowa's underage and binge drinking rates exceed national averages, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. This issue signals the need for substance abuse counselors who can help struggling or recovering alcoholics.

Gaining substance abuse counselor licensure is a process that involves gaining experience, taking exams, and earning endorsements. Read on to learn more about how to become a substance abuse counselor in Iowa.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Iowa

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in Iowa here

Education and Experience Requirements

Earning substance abuse counselor certification in Iowa requires understanding the complicated interplay of education and experience requirements, which generally favor but do not require a college degree. Earning a higher level of education in counseling-related fields can greatly reduce your required experience hours for obtaining certification.

Academic Requirements

Iowa does not require a college degree for working as a licensed substance abuse counselor. However, a college degree at the associate level or higher can reduce experience requirements.

For instance, applicants can achieve the most basic substance abuse counselor credential through a 24-credit, education-focused substance abuse counselor preparation program, plus 150 clock hours of on-the-job education and 1,000 experience hours. However, they could also achieve the credential through a high school or GED diploma, 150 clock hours of job education, and 3,000 experience hours. Advanced forms of licensure and specialization require at least a master's.

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

The most basic level of certification requires 24 credits or more of college coursework. For advanced practice, substance abuse counselors in Iowa need at least a master's. Typically, candidates earn their credits or degrees in relevant majors, like psychology or mental health counseling.

Experience can supplant education, but education should encompass counseling theory and technique, special populations, racial and ethnic issues, and alcohol and drug issues. Topics can cover assessment and appraisal in counseling, research methods in counseling, and multicultural issues. The University of Iowa's master's in rehabilitation counseling is one example of an in-state program that leads to advanced certification.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

Required supervised hours vary according to the type of certification you want and your education level. For instance, achieving international alcohol and drug certification (IADC) requires 2,000 hours of supervised experience with a master's, 3,000 supervised hours with a bachelor's, and 4,000 with an associate. Consult the Iowa counselor board's handbook when in doubt.

The Exam and Application Process for Iowa Substance Abuse Counselors

The Iowa counselor board deputizes substance abuse counseling programs to offer certifications rather than offering licenses itself. Candidates obtain certification through programs licensed by the Iowa Certification Board (ICB) or the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC), to which ICB belongs. The ICB provides three certification levels:

  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC):
    the most basic level of certification; non-reciprocal
  • International Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IADC):
    slightly higher than CADC; reciprocal between states
  • International Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IAADC):
    intended for graduate students; reciprocal between states

To earn credentials, prospective counselors must present adequate education or experience documentation, a supervisor evaluation, and a $40 fee. The supervisor evaluation must document a three-month period for the CADC credential and six months for any higher credential.

The Iowa counselor board deputizes substance abuse counseling programs to offer certifications rather than offering licenses itself

Once approved, candidates for CADC and IADC certifications take the IC&RC alcohol and drug counselor exam while IAADC candidates take the IC&RC advanced alcohol and drug counselor exam. Both are computer-based and cost $140. The IC&RC provides candidate guides and online practice exams for both examinations for $49. Once you pass the exam, you must submit a $200 certification fee to the board within 30 days.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Out-of-state applicants with substance abuse counselor certifications approved by IC&RC can receive Iowa credentialing without any additional education or training. Candidates requesting reciprocity must pay a $100 fee.

Iowa's CADC certification does not hold reciprocity outside of the state, unlike IADC and IAADC credentialing. The Iowa counselor board recommends that out-of-state applicants for reciprocity carefully review which credentialing boards currently belong the IC&RC, as some boards occasionally withdraw from the reciprocity agreement. Some jurisdictions may also feature differing experience and education requirements, even in the case of IADC and IAADC credentialing.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Certification lasts two years, at which point counselors must apply for renewal. The state expects renewal candidates to accumulate 40 hours of continuing education over this period. Of those 40 hours, three must cover ethics, and the remaining 37 must cover relevant topics in substance abuse, mental health, or special populations.

Iowa allows up to 20 hours in online learning to count towards the requirement. One semester hour of college credit equates to 15 clock hours of continuing education while one quarter hour equates to 10. A maximum of 15 hours of teaching other professionals can count toward the requirement.

Certification lasts two years, at which point counselors must apply for renewal

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Iowa

You can hit the ground running in your career as a substance abuse counselor in Iowa by bookmarking helpful resources. Use the following resources to explore continuing education, advocacy, and professional networking opportunities.

  • Alliance of Coalitions for Change AC4C advocates about issues relating to combating substance abuse in Iowa. Substance abuse counselors should consider allying themselves with the coalition as part of their professional advocacy.
  • The Association for Addiction Professionals NAADAC provides unique certification programs — such as its conflict resolution in recovery certification — along with a range of in-person and online training opportunities. The association also hosts an annual conference tailored to substance abuse counseling professionals.
  • Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development Since 1999, ICYD has advocated for youth in the community through a range of initiatives. It provides professionals with plentiful volunteering and networking opportunities.
  • Iowa Mentoring Partnership Established in 2001, IMP promotes quality mentorship programs across Iowa. It also offers a mentoring certification program in online and in-person formats, along with training courses for school counselors.
  • Iowa Youth Survey IYS collects data on trends in behaviors such as underage drinking and youth drug use throughout Iowa. IYS website visitors can organize information according to county.
  • Mid-America Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network The Mid-America ATTC furnishes substance abuse professionals with online courses, training opportunities, and articles on contemporary issues in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and management.
  • Partnership for a Healthy Iowa Partnership for a Healthy Iowa disseminates educational materials on drug abuse, sex trafficking, and teen suicide to the public. The organization offers professionals access to public health program kits in topics such as workplace and school health.
  • Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation The Iowa consortium provides substance abuse professionals with opportunities for training and professional development. It also has an ongoing journal about contemporary issues in the field, such as AIDS treatment and prescription opioid addiction.
  • State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council SIYAC represents a coalition of young adults advocating for youth interests in Iowa. The group's service projects and legislative initiatives make it a powerful ally for substance abuse counselors who work with youth.
  • Your Life Iowa Your Life Iowa provides support to Iowans struggling with issues related to drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, and suicide. The organization also offers webinars and in-person training opportunities.

Explore More Pathways to Becoming a Counselor in Iowa

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