How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in North Dakota

According to the 2018 North Dakota Epidemiological Profile, approximately 9% of adults and 5.4% of youth in North Dakota have diagnosed substance abuse disorders. Binge drinking and illicit drug use rates in North Dakota suggest that these numbers could rise in the coming years. Consequently, the state needs qualified substance abuse counselors to help treat North Dakotans suffering from addiction.

North Dakota's Board of Addiction Counseling Examiners (NDBACE) offers one primary type of substance abuse counseling license: the licensed addiction counselor (LAC) credential, which individuals earn through completing education, training, and examination requirements.

The information below outlines these requirements, describes the LAC licensure examination, application, and renewal processes, and connects candidates to professional resources that may serve them as they pursue this important career.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in North Dakota

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in North Dakota here

Education and Experience Requirements

In addition to passing a criminal background check and a licensure examination, North Dakota's LAC's must meet specific educational, training, and practice requirements. The state requires an accredited, related bachelor's degree that includes one year's worth of addiction studies, along with specific training that differs from that required by national certification agencies.

Academic Requirements

North Dakota holds high education standards for addiction counselors, requiring at least a bachelor's degree in addiction studies or in a closely related, clinically applied human services field. Addiction studies bachelor's degrees must have programmatic accreditation from the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Committee, The International Coalition for Addiction Studies and Education Accreditation, or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs. Bachelor's programs accredited by these organizations typically include the specific addictions coursework components required by North Dakota.

Those pursuing a related human services degree should ensure they obtain at least 32 semester hours of addiction studies that meet the specific academic requirements outlined by NDBACE's administrative code.


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

North Dakota substance abuse counseling candidates must complete two semester hours of professional ethics and three credit hours in each of several topics: co-occurring disorders, dynamics of addiction, family systems, group counseling, lifespan development, multicultural diversity or cultural competency in counseling, psychopharmacology, and treatment theory and technique.

These courses must include specific content requirements outlined in the NDBACE's administrative code. For example, coursework on family systems should familiarize students with family functioning, family types, and addiction within families, while coursework on co-occurring disorders should examine DSM-V diagnosis and mental health and illness among children, youth, and adults.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

North Dakota LCA applicants must have 1,400 hours of training via either an NDBACE-approved training program or an individualized training plan supervised by the board. Usually the board does not register individuals as trainees until they have completed at least 28 of their 32 required addiction studies credits.

The state code dictates that training programs involve rotations (of three months or more) between at least two treatment facilities. Training programs also include monthly evaluations, supervised hours in five clinical areas, and an oral examination. Although the board does sometimes grant extensions, it expects most students to finish training within two years.

The Exam and Application Process for North Dakota Substance Abuse Counselors

The NDBACE requires first-time substance abuse counseling applicants to complete, in addition to the education and registered training requirements described above, a certified examination designed by the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). These computer-based examinations occur year-round at sites in Bismarck and Minot. Candidates officially apply for preapproval and pay a fee to take the exam.

The NDBACE requires first-time substance abuse counseling applicants to complete a certified examination

After passing the exam, first-time licensure applicants submit a full licensure application that includes three professional reference forms (one from a clinical supervisor), official transcripts,training documentation, verified exam scores, a code of ethics form, and license fees.

Experienced LACs boasting 6,000 hours (about three years full-time) of experience and 20 continuing education hours on clinical supervision may apply for clinical supervisor status by submitting two letters of recommendation from supervisors registered by the state board.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Substance abuse counselors from other states need to earn reciprocity approval from the full state board. To do so, the counselor contacts the licensing board(s) in their former jurisdiction(s) and requests to have a verification form sent to the NDBACE. The reciprocity candidate ensures that the prior board provides NDBACE with documentation of the candidate's past and present licensure. The candidate must demonstrate their previous licensure requirements are equivalent to North Dakota's.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

To maintain licensure, addiction counselors usually need 40 hours of continuing education every two years. Six of these hours must pertain to professional ethics. Those obtaining a license during the first half of an odd-numbered year only need 20 hours of continuing education, and those obtaining licensure during the second half of an odd year do not need to complete any hours until the following two-year period. Continuing education hours only count if earned after the license's effective date and within the designated two-year licensure period.

To maintain licensure, addiction counselors usually need 40 hours of continuing education every two years

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in North Dakota

Students pursuing a substance abuse counseling license in North Dakota should familiarize themselves with available professional resources for those in this field. In addition to state and international organizations which facilitate addictions counseling licensure, several professional organizations advocate for substance abuse counselors and their clients. These organizations often provide counselors with related resources, education, and networking opportunities.

  • Heartview Foundation The Heartview Foundation treatment center offers continuing education units (CEUs) and programs certified by the NDBACE. Heartview features a variety of evaluation, treatment, and education services for addicted clients and their families.
  • International Association for Addiction and Offender Counselors The IAAOC runs topic-based committees on addictions, offers online education resources, and publishes both a newsletter and a journal designed for professionals working with addicted individuals involved with the criminal justice system.
  • International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium The IC&RC sets international credentialing standards for substance abuse counselors. Working with state boards, this consortium creates and administers qualifying examinations that measure the preparedness and currency of addictions professionals.
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers NAATP provides advocacy, networking, resources, a job center, and an annual leadership conference. This association also conducts research, running an Outcomes Pilot Program that assesses the effectiveness of the organization's efforts in the addictions field. NAATP members get listed on the site's searchable membership directory and qualify for scholarships, a benefit plan, and industry discounts.
  • North Dakota Addiction Counselors Association A state branch of NAADAC, this association offers addictions professionals networking opportunities, addiction counseling-related resources, continuing education, and advocacy at the state level.
  • North Dakota Behavioral Health Services This state government portal provides North Dakota mental and behavioral health professionals with news, job opportunities, policy manuals, current research, and provider and service location information. Additional online services pertain to child support, healthcare coverage, age and disability, and economic assistance. This site also features a Facebook page and web portal with additional information and training opportunities.
  • North Dakota Board of Addiction Counseling Examiners The NDBACE grants licensure for North Dakota substance abuse counselors. This board establishes minimum standards and core curriculum requirements for regular licensure and private practice. The board also approves clinical supervisors, internships, and training programs for substance abuse counselors in North Dakota.
  • North Dakota Counseling Association The NDCA, a group of over 400 counselors, advocates for the profession, encourages leadership, runs an annual conference, publishes a newsletter, and connects counselors with professional development opportunities. The group also offers awards, grants, and a graduate scholarship.
  • North Dakota Mental Health Counselors Association The NDMHCA, a community of North Dakota mental health professionals, connects counselors with educational resources and networking opportunities. NDMHCA advocates for mental health professionals and provides relevant articles, legislative updates, awards, a conference, and a client referral resource for members.
  • North Dakota Prevention and Resource Center his government center collects, examines, and disseminates addiction data and other relevant addictions information. By assessing needs, resources, and community readiness, the NDPRMC informs prevention efforts and other steps toward improving community health.

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