How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in North Carolina

Substance abuse counselors in North Carolina hold credentials from the North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board (NCSAPPB). As a member of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (IC&RC), the NCSAPPB received statutory status from North Carolina in 1994. The state mandated substance abuse counselors to hold counseling credentials in North Carolina in 2005, and the NCSAPPB offers six certifications and licenses to professionals in the field.

The NCSAPPB offers a certified substance abuse counselor program alongside specialized credentials for addictions specialists, supervisors, and prevention specialists. Substance abuse professionals can also earn a certification in criminal justice addictions or to work as a residential facility director. The core credential, however, assesses expertise in the twelve functions of a substance abuse counselor. To earn a substance abuse counselor certificate in North Carolina, check out the requirements, process, and expectations below.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in North Carolina

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Education and Experience Requirements

Education and experience requirements to become a certified substance abuse counselor in North Carolina vary depending upon the type of credentials one seeks. Several North Carolina certifications work in concert with other credentials. The core program is designed for individuals entering the substance abuse counseling field.

Academic Requirements

To become a certified substance abuse counselor in North Carolina, students can earn undergraduate or graduate degrees that lead to certification. Not all substance abuse programs result in certification, however. The NCSAPPB certified substance abuse counselor is designed for students with a high school diploma or equivalency. Individuals holding associate, bachelor's, or graduate degrees that do not meet licensure requirements also must complete the NCSAPPB program.

Many colleges and universities in North Carolina offer coursework that prepares students to sit for the certified substance abuse counselor certification. While not required, they do help students meet the requirements of the exam and enter the workforce more quickly.


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

To become a certified substance abuse counselor, learners must complete 270 hours of education hours approved by the NCSAPPB. At least 190 hours must meet core competency requirements applicable to substance abuse practice. Competency areas include screening, intake, orientation, assessment, case management, treatment planning, reporting and record keeping, and crisis intervention skills.

Students must also complete six hours of HIV/AIDS/STD and bloodborne pathogen training and education; six hours of professional ethics education, and six hours in areas such as nicotine dependence, psychopathology, evidence-based treatment approaches, and substance abuse issues in older adults or affecting veterans.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

Once learners have completed 270 hours of education, they participate in a 300-hour practicum. The practicum takes roughly two months. During the practicum, they work with a licensed clinical addictions counselor to gain experience with the 12 core functions of counseling as defined by the NCSAPPB. Each learner practices at least 10 hours for each function with the remaining hours dedicated to one focus area.

The Exam and Application Process for North Carolina Substance Abuse Counselors

Once students complete the education and practicum requirements, they must register with the NCSAPPB. Registration materials include documentation of high school graduation or equivalent and any college or advanced degree information.

learners must complete all education, registration, and training requirements, which include 6,000 hours of supervised experience and the submission of two professional reference

Registrants also submit a supervision agreement, resume, and description of job duties for the position they seek to fill. They also undergo a background check performed by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and agree to adhere to the ethics principles of conduct. Learners also take the IC&RC alcohol and drug counselor exam to become a certified substance abuse counselor intern. As an intern, students complete 300 hours of supervised work at a ratio of one hour of supervision per 10 hours of work.

To become a fully certified certified substance abuse counselor, learners complete all education, registration, and training requirements, which include 6,000 hours of supervised experience and the submission of two professional references. Applicants have five years to complete all requirements.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Learners who have completed the exams offered by IC&RC and meet the requirements receive licensure in North Carolina. The IC&RC's advanced alcohol and drug counselor credential is equivalent to the NCSAPPB's licensed clinical addiction specialist designation.

This holds true for all of the certifications offered by the NCSAPPB, with the exception of the residential facility direction program. North Carolina's certification for residential facility direction is a non-IC&RC program.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Certification lasts for two years. The renewal learning plan requires students to complete 60 approved education hours within the first two years of practice. Under a supervision contract with a clinical practice supervisor, renewal is contingent upon one hour of supervision for every 40 hours for the first 4,000 hours of practice; one hour of supervision for every 80 hours for the second 4,000 hours of practice; and one hour of supervision for every 160 hours of practice for all subsequent practice. For renewal, counselors must also agree to adhere to the ethical standards of the NCSABBP.

North Carolina substance abuse counselors must renew their certification every two years

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in North Carolina

Substance abuse counselors benefit from professional organizations and field-specific resources to inform their practice. Networking opportunities, continuing education programs, and advocacy initiative provided through various agencies and groups also prove valuable for substance abuse counseling professionals.

  • Addictions Professionals of North Carolina The APNC unites professionals working in substance abuse disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery from around the state. The APNC strives for excellence in practice, ethical excellence, and innovation while advocating for professionals in the field.
  • Alcohol/Drug Council of North Carolina A nonprofit based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the ADCNC works to prevent, treat, and assist individuals with substance abuse disorders through advocacy, intervention, and knowledge. The ADCNC offers extensive information on levels of care, support groups, and women's services.
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine The ASAM represents more than 6,000 physicians, clinicians, and substance abuse professionals. Founded in 1954, the ASAM offers educational programs, advocacy initiatives, and published resources alongside professional development events.
  • Anuvia Anuvia offers assistance to individuals seeking substance abuse services in Charlotte and the surrounding area. A nonprofit established in 1958, Anuvia provides detoxification, outpatient and residential treatment, and assessment services alongside prevention programs.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The CDC offers extensive information on drug abuse, overdose, and prevention for patients and providers. Their website also offers information about individual state programs and initiatives. Additional CDC resources include smoking and tobacco use and cessation resources.
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers The NAATP addresses addiction across the country by bringing together addiction treatment professionals for law and policy advocacy initiatives, networking and collaboration opportunities, and to ensure ethical standards. Members also benefit from annual conference participation and training opportunities.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse As part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIDA advances understanding of the causes and consequences of drug abuse and addiction through research, collaboration, and testing. NIDA also supports trainings, career development, and emerging drug abuse treatment and prevention approaches.
  • North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services The NCDHHS offers substance abuse and mental health support information with a statewide reporting system for controlled substance misuse and management. The website also links to local agencies throughout the state.
  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids supports children, parents, and families struggling with addiction. Due to a recent merger with the Center on Addiction, the organization now offers additional resources and advocacy opportunities alongside tips for prevention, treatment and recovery guidance, and partnership options.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA works to advance behavioral health across the country. Through trainings and educational programs, treatment resources, and grant programs, the SAMHSA seeks to reduce the role substance abuse and mental illness plays in society.

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