How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Pennsylvania

Substance abuse counselors are in high demand as Pennsylvania wrestles a vicious opioid epidemic. To become a substance abuse counselor in Pennsylvania, you need to obtain licensure from the Pennsylvania Certification Board (PCB). The board grants four substance abuse credentials: the associate addiction counselor (AAC), the certified associate addiction counselor (CAAC), the certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC), and the certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor (CAADC).

All official licenses require coursework and experience hours, beginning at 300 total education hours and 6,000 practicum experience hours for the CAAC license. However, if you're eager to begin earning experience hours as you pursue full licensure, you can start as an AAC with just a high school diploma and 100 credit hours of relevant substance use coursework.

Read on for more information about the requirements and steps you need to complete before obtaining a Pennsylvania substance abuse counseling license to join the fight against addiction in Pennsylvania.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Pennsylvania

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Pennsylvania

Education and Experience Requirements

This section provides an overview of the required education, work experience, examination, and application processes required for each of Pennsylvania's substance abuse counseling licenses. You will also find a list of relevant professional resources useful in planning your education, practicum experiences, and career.

Academic Requirements

You can obtain AAC designation with just a high school diploma (or its equivalent) and 100 credit hours related to addiction. An AAC designation allows you to begin accumulating necessary experience hours and additional coursework necessary for licensure. To earn CAAC licensure, you need 300 relevant credit hours, including 100 relating to drug and alcohol counseling and six credit hours on counseling ethics.

Meanwhile, for CADC licensure, each candidate will need a bachelor's degree or its equivalent, and a CAAC license requires a master's degree. You should complete both undergraduate coursework in a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and master's coursework in a program accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.


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

Each AAC must complete 100 credit hours covering screening, assessment, engagement, referral, collaboration, treatment planning, counseling, education, and professional ethics. CAACs and CADCs each need to complete 300 addiction counseling-related credit hours, with six related to professional ethics and 100 dedicated to alcohol and drug addiction. Each CADC needs a bachelor's degree, as well.

A candidate pursuing a CAADC must finish 180 credit hours on substance abuse and related disorders, in addition to six credit hours on ethics. Pennsylvania requires each license-seeker to earn proof of competency via supervised work experience.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

In addition to coursework, aspiring Pennsylvania counselors need to earn supervised practicum experience hours. CAACs need 6,000 experience hours (300 directly supervised); CADCs need 4,000 experience hours (200 supervised); and CAADCs need 2,000 experience hours (100 directly supervised). Supervised experience hours must include 10 or more in the following five major areas: treatment planning, counseling and education, screening assessment and engagement, collaboration and referral, and professional ethics.

The Exam and Application Process for Pennsylvania Substance Abuse Counselors

Applying for substance abuse counseling licensure from the PCB involves several steps, beginning with the following submissions: a notarized application, which demonstrates the requisite experience and education for a given license; college transcripts, high school diploma, certificates, or other pertinent documentation of education completed; a job description form from your current supervisor (submitted directly to PCB); verification letters from previous employers (submitted directly); a certification fee; and an exam fee, if applicable.

Failing test-takers may retake the exam after 90 days for an additional fee

Once applicants receive approval from the PCB, they can register for and take an International Certification and Reciprocal Consortium (IC&RC) examination via computer at an approved site. Candidates can take the exam that corresponds to the license sought: CAAC and CADC applicants must pass the examination for alcohol and drug counselors, and CAADCs must pass the examination for advanced alcohol and drug counselors.

Failing test-takers may retake the exam after 90 days for an additional fee. Exams measure the same five competency areas emphasized in substance abuse counseling coursework: professional and ethical responsibility; counseling; treatment planning; collaboration and referral; and screening, assessment and engagement. IC&RC provides examination study guides and practice tests online.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Pennsylvania does not offer credentials to out-of-state counselors via endorsement. However, out-of-state substance abuse counselors seeking to counsel in Pennsylvania may request that their prior state board submit a reciprocity application to the PCB. Pennsylvania grants substance abuse counseling licensure to out-of-state applicants on this reciprocity basis without testing, provided that the prior state has equivalent credentialing standards.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Substance abuse counseling licenses require renewal every two years, via 40 PCB-approved continuing education hours related to addiction (three must pertain to addiction counseling ethics). PCB approves each organization on a case-by-case basis via submission of an educational approval form.

Each counselor can submit their renewal application online or via mail, along with a renewal fee, before their license expiration date. Renewal notices come from the PCB through email. Should the license lapse, counselors may need to wait a year to regain certification.

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania substance abuse counselors often use state agencies and professional organizations to keep abreast of current research, continuing education, networking opportunities, field trends and developments, state and national law and policy changes, and other relevant information. Professional organizations can expose aspiring counselors to possible fields of specialization, internship and practicum sites, available scholarships, and education programs.

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