How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in New York

By Staff Writer

Substance abuse is a major concern for many Americans, who often either battle addiction themselves or know someone who does. According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.3 million Americans aged 18 or older suffer from a substance abuse disorder and struggle with alcohol or illicit drugs. Substance abuse counselors work with clients who suffer from addiction, helping them break the cycle of dependence by understanding and modifying negative behaviors.

Like professionals in other states, substance abuse counselors in New York must complete a rigorous training program before they can work directly with clients and their families. This guide provides prospective addiction counselors with the vital information needed to embark on a challenging but rewarding career, including academic and licensing requirements. Read on to learn how to become a substance abuse counselor in New York.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in New York

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in New York here

Education and Experience Requirements

The following sections explore the academic and field training requirements all substance abuse counselors must fulfill to obtain licensure. While every state maintains slightly different degree and internship or practicum requirements, the following information describes some basic features of college-level substance abuse counseling programs.

Academic Requirements

The first step toward becoming a substance abuse counselor typically involves earning a bachelor's degree. Many counseling professionals hold undergraduate degrees in fields like psychology, sociology, or social work. If your undergraduate program did not include a significant amount of counseling-related coursework, you may need to complete certain prerequisite courses. Most states, including New York, require counselors to hold a master's degree in counseling, particularly if they wish to enter into private practice.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) establishes and enforces accreditation guidelines for counseling programs. Completing a CACREP-accredited program often makes it easier to obtain licensure.

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

A master's degree in counseling typically consists of 60 credits, including 39 core credits, 12 credits within the substance abuse specialization, and nine credits of clinical practice experience. Most students earn their degrees within two years of full-time continuous enrollment or three years of part-time study.

While counseling program curricula vary between schools, most include fundamental courses such as human growth and development, counseling techniques, social and cultural foundations of counseling, and psychopathology and personality disorders. Students who plan to pursue a doctorate in the field may choose to pursue a more research-heavy curriculum.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

The total number of hours in a program's practicum component typically depends on state licensure requirements. Supervised practice hours provide students with practical experience in professional settings, presenting opportunities for direct client contact and observation. Online students usually complete practicum and internship requirements in their local areas.

The Exam and Application Process for New York Substance Abuse Counselors

The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) is the credentialing body for substance abuse counselors in the Empire State. Professionals who intend to specialize in substance abuse counseling must obtain the credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor (CASAC) designation.

OASAS requires applicants to complete at least 350 clock hours of education and training that address the full range of competencies related to substance abuse counseling. A clock hour can refer to the actual number of hours, undergraduate or graduate credits (one college credit is 15 clock hours), or continuing education units (one continuing education credit is 10 clock hours). OASAS breaks down those 350 hours as follows:

After meeting all educational and work experience requirements, applicants must pass an exam for alcohol and drug counselors administered by the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC)

CASAC applicants must complete 6,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, providing a variety of direct patient services in an OASAS-approved work setting. Applicants can use the following academic degrees to partially satisfy the 6,000-hour requirement: associate degree, which is worth 1,000 hours; bachelor's degree, which is worth 2,000 hours; or master's degree, which is worth 4,000 hours.

After meeting all educational and work experience requirements, applicants must pass an exam for alcohol and drug counselors administered by the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). It is important to remember that CASAC is not an independent practice license in New York, and all applicants must pass a criminal background check.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

OASAS recognizes addiction professionals who hold a valid license or credential from IC&RC. Applicants must first obtain an Application for Reciprocity form from their current IC&RC board, complete the form, and submit it to the board with a $150 processing fee. Once the IC&RC verifies an applicant's credentials, it forwards the information to OASAS.

Credentialed substance abuse counselors must complete a supplemental personal information form, submit to a criminal background check, and sign an affirmation form agreeing to uphold the CASAC Canon of Ethical Principles before practicing in New York.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

OASAS requires CASAC credential-holders to renew their certificates every three years. Substance abuse counselors who are renewing their CASAC designations must submit a completed renewal application packet to the OASES Credentialing Unit at least 45 days before their current credential expires.

CASAC credential-holders in new York are required to renew their certificates every three years

Renewal applicants must submit documentation proving that they have completed at least 60 clock hours of continuing professional education. These hours may include accredited college coursework (a maximum of 20 clock hours); continuing education units offered by recognized professional organizations; or professional activity (a maximum of 28 clock hours). Applicants must also submit a completed evaluation of competency and ethical conduct form from their direct supervisors.

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in New York

Professional organizations provide substance abuse counselors and other addiction specialists with a wealth of benefits and resources. Members can develop and strengthen industry-wide networks, take advantage of career support services, and explore the latest research findings and developments. The following resources and organizations can help new professionals launch or expand a career as a substance abuse counselor in New York.

  • Addiction Resource Guide Visitors to this site can explore a free directory of substance abuse treatment facilities throughout the U.S., along with a comprehensive list of professional organizations dedicated to specific addictions or disorders.
  • American Counseling Association This association provides members with a wealth of resources, including continuing education programs, policy news and updates from federal and state agencies, and access to electronic journals.
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine ASAM's e-Learning Center features services and resources such as certification programs, updates on the latest research, and fellowship and grant information. Members can register for regional and national events and access presentations from past conferences online.
  • Association for Humanistic Counseling AHC's webinars qualify as continuing education units for counselor licensure and certification. The organization's annual conference features presentations on the latest developments and findings in humanistic counseling.
  • Counselor Magazine Supporting Counselor Magazine provides substance abuse counselors and other addiction professionals with up-to-date information. Available in online and hard copy formats, the magazine regularly features scholarly articles that bridge the gap between clinical practice and addiction research.
  • National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors NAADAC sponsors the annual William White scholarship for the best academic paper on addiction. Undergraduate winners receive $1,000, while graduate students receive $2,000. NAADAC also offers informative webinars and certification programs.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse Along with research funding opportunities, NIDA offers educational resources for professionals, parents, teachers, and students. Institute members gain access to publications, research reports, and policy briefs on relevant topics in addition to training and career development information.
  • Science Daily This website presents the latest science-based findings on a variety of topics, including addiction research. Recent scholarly articles have covered topics such as identifying at-risk teens through brain imaging and personality traits associated with drug abuse.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA maintains online resource centers related to evidence-based practice, suicide prevention, medical-assisted treatment, and serious medical illness. Members engaged in relevant research may apply for grant opportunities.

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