Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements in Pennsylvania: Becoming a CAAC or CAADC in PA

Staffing requirements for Pennsylvania substance abuse counselors are set down in state regulation. A person can qualify for employment at a Pennsylvania treatment facility on the basis of education and experience or certification by an accepted certifying body. Facilities may hire both counselors and counselor assistants. However, there are limits on the ratio of assistants to fully qualified staff members.

Qualifying on the Basis of Education and Experience

A person can qualify as a counselor on the basis of a degree in one of the following fields: chemical dependency, counseling, nursing, psychology, or social work. Other related degrees can be accepted. A nursing degree should include a human services specialization.

The level of the degree will determine the amount of human services experience a person will need in order to achieve counselor status. With an associate's degree, the requirement is 3,640 hours. With a bachelor's degree, it is 1,820. With a master's degree, practicum may suffice.

If the experience was not accrued in a substance abuse counseling setting, the individual will need a training plan that specifically addresses deficiencies.

A person who holds both a Pennsylvania nursing license and a nursing degree can be considered qualified with 1,820 hours.

A person who is working toward counselor status through one of the above pathways must have supervision as dictated by state regulation. He or she can expect to provide counseling under direct supervision at the onset. The minimum timeframe for performing counseling without “close supervision” depends on degree.

Select a Pennsylvania CAAC or CAADC topic...

Achieving Substance Abuse Counselor Certification

According to state code, a person can be considered fully qualified on the basis of certification through a state certifying body that holds membership in a national organization. The qualifying Pennsylvania organization is the Pennsylvania Certification Board, a member of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).

The PCB offers several alcohol and drug counselor certifications that not only meet state staffing requirements but are reciprocal through the IC&RC. The different certifications are distinguished by level of education. A counselor who wishes to obtain a higher level of certification can carry over some requirements met at the lower level. A “career ladder” document can be accessed from the PCB homepage. The following is a summation of requirements.

Certified Associate Addiction Counselor: The CAAC is attainable with a high school diploma or GED. The prospective CAAC will need 300 hours of education that is relevant to addiction counseling; of these, at least 100 must be specific to the discipline. A three semester hour college course can be credited as 45 hours. The PCB has mandated six hours of ethics training. Up to six hours of CPR training may be included as part of the 300 hours.

In order to be certification eligible, a person must demonstrate 6,000 hours of experience as an alcohol and drug counselor (the equivalent of three full-time years). Experience must have been earned during the prior seven-year period. Work experience must meet standards described in the application packet. The individual must be currently employed within the field. The candidate will need 300 hours of supervision.

The prospective CAAC will take the IC&RC Examination for Alcohol and Drug Counselors after all other requirements have been met.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor: The CADC is a bachelor's level credential. The degree must be earned through an accredited institution. The individual will need 300 hours of relevant education, which may or may not be earned as part of the degree.

The prospective CADC will need 4,000 hours of alcohol and drug counseling experience. The supervision requirement is the same as it is at the lower level: 300 hours. The required examination is also the same: the IC&RC ADC.

Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor: The CAADC certification is reserved for professionals with degrees at the graduate level. The prospective CAADC will need, in addition to (or as a part of) a master's degree program, 180 hours of relevant education. A master’s graduate can attain CAADC status after just 2,000 hours of qualifying experience. The prospective CAADC will take the IC&RC Examination for Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselors.

The Associate Addiction Counselor is an entry level designation for those working toward certification.

Other certifications: A person may meet staffing requirements with other PCB certifications such as co-occurring disorders professional.

The person could potentially qualify as a counselor by virtue of full certification held in another state (

There are IC&RC boards located in most states. In order to be eligible for certification by a particular IC&RC board, a person must live or work in the state a majority of the time.

The Certification Application Process

Application materials can be downloaded from the website of the Pennsylvania Certification Board ( Applications can be sent in any of several ways, including email. Some supplemental documents will need to come from third parties.

Educational level is documented through an official transcript or a copy of high school diploma or GED. Non-academic alcohol and drug counseling education may be documented through certificates of completion. The PCB recommends that applicants requests their transcripts several weeks before submitting their applications. Prospective certificate holders may elect to have their education reviewed before application.

The Certification Board will require addiction counselor applicants at all levels to submit job descriptions. The description is to be signed by the supervisor. Past employment, if applicable, can be documented through employer letter.

The certification fee is $350. This includes the cost of examination. Re-examination carries a $150 fee.

Additional Information

Information about substance abuse counselor certification is available from the Pennsylvania Certification Board ( The PCB has provided detailed application instructions. Unanswered questions can be addressed to ‘info at’.

The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs can provide information about facility licensure and staffing (

The Pennsylvania Association for Addiction Professionals, the state NAADAC affiliate, is an additional professional resource (

Sponsored Schools