How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Tennessee

If you possess strong interpersonal skills, enjoy helping people, and have an interest in treating addiction issues, a career as a substance abuse counselor may be an excellent fit for you. Prospective counselors in Tennessee can pursue careers in this highly rewarding and growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that available positions in this area will grow 23% by 2026. This rate is more than three times the average growth rate of all other occupations in the U.S.

Education and licensure serve as the essential steps toward a career as a substance abuse counselor in Tennessee. In most scenarios, you will need to obtain an undergraduate degree and pass the necessary Tennessee Counselor Board requirements. While the process of obtaining licensure can be daunting, the following guide organizes all of the necessary information into one convenient location. Follow the steps below to learn how to become a substance abuse counselor in Tennessee.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Tennessee

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in Tennessee here

Education and Experience Requirements

To pursue a career in substance abuse counseling in Tennessee, you must follow educational guidelines and obtain the requisite number of supervised hours in the field. There are only two levels of licensure for substance abuse counselors in the state: level one and level two licensed alcohol and drug counselors (LADCs). The sections below highlight the academic requirements, coursework, and training required to become a substance abuse counselor in Tennessee.

Academic Requirements

If you wish to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling and practice independently, you need at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited school to apply for a level two license. In many cases, today's practicing counselors possess master's degrees. Tennessee requires each applicant for licensure to possess an undergraduate degree in behavioral health or a related field.

A graduate degree in a non-behavioral health field also qualifies individuals for licensure. Pupils interested in pursuing careers in substance abuse counseling can learn more about undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field at Counselor-License.com.


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

In addition to a bachelor's degree, an applicant looking to practice independently as a level two Tennessee counseling professional in substance abuse needs two years or 4,000 hours of supervised experience. Unlike some states, Tennessee does not require undergraduate or graduate degree holders to possess a specific number of course credits in any particular subject.

Those who wish to apply for level two licensure need a degree in behavioral health or a related field. Prospective counselors submit their official transcripts, along with other documentation that we discuss below, as proof that they complete the necessary educational requirements.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

In Tennessee, before a counselor may apply for licensure, they must complete 6,000 clinically supervised hours and 270 hours of formal classroom training. To obtain the necessary hours, learners can work in rehabilitation centers, take alcohol and drug courses provided by the state, or hold positions in alcohol and drug treatment facilities under the guidance of an individual with a certificate of qualified supervision (CQS). Classroom training hours can come from workshops, community college classes, or any other approved school.

The Exam and Application Process for Tennessee Substance Abuse Counselors

Applicants for licensure follow the steps and guidelines set forth by Tennessee's Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors. The board requires each applicant to complete several steps and various forms to obtain licensure. At this point, learners should also possess the state's requisite number of supervised field hours and educational standards.

First, candidates must apply online by creating a practitioner profile. Initial documents include a PDF application, declaration of citizenship, and paperwork for military personnel or their spouses. Each applicant also pays an application fee through this profile and submits their information for a criminal background check.

Each aspiring counselor must submit a three-page statement on their philosophy of treatment and up to a 14-page case study on a relevant substance abuse topic

Secondly, each candidate must have their supervisors fill out a supervisor evaluation form and a verification of education hours form, submit contact information for professional references, and complete the jurisprudence examination. A level one applicant must complete the board's written exams and jurisprudence exams, while a level two candidate completes oral, written, and jurisprudence exams.

Applicants must submit notarized photocopies of their high school diplomas, GEDs, and college transcripts to the Tennessee Counselor Board. Each aspiring counselor must also submit a three-page statement on their philosophy of treatment and up to a 14-page case study on a relevant substance abuse topic.

The NAADAC determines if candidates pass or fail. Those who fail the written portion may reapply.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Out-of-state applicants who already possess licensure in another state can follow an abbreviated version of the in-state application process. If you possess or maintain current licensure in any healthcare discipline, you must apply for clearance to the Tennessee State Board to practice. Each applicant needs to fill out a reinstatement application and pass the board's jurisprudence examination.

The Tennessee Board may consider an out-of-state license in alcohol and drug counseling for reciprocity. The license must come from a state that the Tennessee Board determines possesses comparable or higher licensing standards than Tennessee. The state currently holds licensure reciprocity with Kentucky.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Substance abuse counselor licensure expires every two years. To renew a license, an applicant must pay the appropriate fees and complete 15 contact hours of continuing education classes each year. Professionals may gain up to six contact hours of multimedia-based instruction. They must spend at least three of the 15 hours focused on professional ethics, state codes, and regulations. At least nine hours of instruction must take place in a face-to-face setting.

Substance abuse counselor licensure expires every two years in Tennessee

Acceptable continuing education activities include college-level coursework in alcohol and drug abuse at an accredited institution, educational events with sponsorship or approval of the Board or Department of Health, or distance learning classes. Administrative meetings, regular work activities, speeches, self-structured learning, and training related to policies and procedures of a particular agency may not count toward continuing education hours.

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Tennessee

Students, young professionals, and seasoned counselors alike can take advantage of online resources in professional organizations throughout their careers. Professionals with an eye on essential resources can stay up to date with the latest news in the field, research findings, updated rules and regulations, and most recent job postings. Furthermore, professional organizations can provide valuable networking opportunities for professionals at any stage in their careers.

  • American Society of Addiction Medicine ASAM is an academically focused organization founded in 1954 that represents over 6,000 clinicians, physicians, and related professionals. The society offers members access to an online job board that includes information on available fellowship positions for students, entry-level jobs in clinics and rehabilitation centers for recent graduates, and open positions for new and experienced physicians.
  • Center on Addiction This national nonprofit helps people obtain necessary addiction treatments and offers drug use prevention services. The site features a section for healthcare providers that offers up-to-date online articles, care and prevention instruction manuals, continuing education resources, and educational media center.
  • Drug-Free America Foundation The foundation features five specialty divisions and task forces to battle drug addiction and advance patient care in the United States. Students and professionals can contribute to its publication, the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, and take advantage of its extensive online resources on overcoming addictions, up-to-date information on drug policies, drug testing, and international drug policies.
  • HumanServicesEdu This site helps prospective students and professionals understand the early stages of their education and careers by offering education guides, state-by-state licensing guides, and career profiles. Special sections of the page explore public sector and nonprofit employment.
  • National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors The NAADAC is a membership-based professional organization started in 1972. Members can receive access to annual conferences, professional development resources, exclusive online education materials, unique face-to-face learning opportunities, and certificate training options.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA provides research funding opportunities, online academic publications, press releases, and numerous resources for students, professionals, and individuals seeking detailed information or treatment. Learners can also take advantage of its online research training and career development services, grants and contracts information, and research data sharing services.
  • Rural Health Information Hub RHIhub provides an online library, rural data research results, case studies, online webinars, and philanthropy resources. Students, researchers, and counselors can use the site's extensive online repository of research results, including a drug and addiction mapping system.
  • Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Founded in 1968, SAHM improves care for adolescents through health promotion, professional development, clinical care, and research. Members receive access to leadership and volunteer opportunities, annual meetings, and an online networking database.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Operated by the U.S. Department of Health, SAMHSA serves as a leading advocate for public mental health initiatives. The site offers a variety of useful services for students and professionals, including an evidence-based practice resource center, a news board, a grant application center, and continuing education opportunities.
  • Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug, and Other Addiction Services TAADAS is a membership organization that promotes health-related topics and resources within the greater Nashville community and around the state. The site provides free access to health and substance abuse publications, in addition to state-funded addiction treatment and recovery services that rely on the help of experienced counselors and volunteers. Many young professionals offer their time and services to support TAADAS's efforts and gain experience.

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