How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Virginia

Substance abuse counselors create treatment plans for clients struggling with substance use disorders. They work closely with clients to support the recovery process and provide counseling services. Over 12,500 substance abuse and mental health counselors work in Virginia. Virginia substance abuse counselors must hold a certified substance abuse counselor credential from the state's Board of Counselors to practice.

Virginia counseling requirements include a bachelor's degree with specialized substance abuse counseling coursework, supervised professional experience, and an examination. Candidates who meet the state's requirements can submit an application to the Board of Counselors, which grants the certified substance abuse counselor credential. Counselors must renew their license every year to continue practicing in the state. This guide covers important information about how to become a substance abuse counselor in Virginia.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Virginia

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Education and Experience Requirements

Virginia sets minimum education and experience requirements for certified substance abuse counselors. Candidates must hold at least a bachelor's degree with required coursework in substance abuse counseling. Applicants must also meet supervised professional experience requirements. These requirements ensure that substance abuse professionals receive appropriate training before treating clients.

Academic Requirements

In Virginia, substance abuse counselors must complete academic requirements to earn the certified substance abuse counselor credential. The Board of Counselors requires at least a bachelor's degree. Candidates with a bachelor's degree must complete 400 clock hours of substance abuse education, including 220 clock hours of didactic training in substance abuse education from an accredited institution or an integrated program approved by the board. In addition, candidates need 180 hours of experience performing supervised substance abuse tasks for clients. Learn more about counseling education and careers.


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 requiring a bachelor's degree or higher, the Board of Counseling requires substance abuse counseling coursework. Candidates must complete at least 10 clock hours in each of the following eight areas: dynamics of human behavior, signs and symptoms of substance abuse, treatment approaches and recovery support groups, continuum of care, relapse prevention models, professional ethics, professional identity for substance abuse service providers, and crisis intervention.

Applicants must also demonstrate 20 hours in both group counseling and substance abuse counseling treatment, planning, and research. Applicants must demonstrate their competencies in these areas by passing an examination.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

Virginia certified substance abuse counselors must complete 2,000 hours of supervised training. These hours must include the delivery of substance abuse counseling, including developing treatment strategies and applying a counseling process to support a client's recovery.

The Exam and Application Process for Virginia Substance Abuse Counselors

The process to become a substance abuse counselor in Virginia starts with the Board of Counselors. Candidates must submit an application, a verification of supervision form, a didactic training verification form, and official transcripts. Candidates must also submit all out-of-state licenses and certifications and a current report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Practitioner Data Bank.

Virginia requires passing scores on the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I exam, administered by the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)

Candidates must meet these requirements before taking the required examination. After submitting the application, the Board of Counselors approves candidates to sit for the examination. Virginia requires passing scores on the National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I exam, administered by the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).

The exam costs $150, and test takers submit their scores to the Board of Counselors after completing the exam. After verification of passing scores, the board conducts a final review of the applicant's file and grants the credential. Candidates who fail the exam must wait 90 days before retaking it.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Virginia offers a certification by endorsement option for out-of-state substance abuse counselors. Candidates with current certification as a substance abuse counselor in another state can pursue the endorsement option, which offers an exemption from the exam requirement.

Substance abuse counselors with a national certification approved by the Board of Counseling can also apply through endorsement. Approved certifications include the national certified addiction counselor level II and the master addiction counselor accreditation offered by the NAADAC as well as the advanced alcohol and drug counselor accreditation from the ICRC.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Certified substance abuse counselors in Virginia must renew their license each year. Current certified counselors must pay $65 to renew their license by June 30 each year. Counselors who let their credential lapse can renew within one year by paying an additional $25 late renewal fee. Counselors who fail to renew their certificate for one year or more must apply for reinstatement, which requires evidence of at least 20 hours of substance abuse education. Certified substance abuse counselors in Virginia do not need to complete continuing education requirements to renew their credential.

Certified substance abuse counselors in Virginia must renew their license each year

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Virginia

In Virginia, substance abuse counselors can rely on resources and professional organizations to stay current in the field and connect with other professionals. These resources offer networking, continuing education, and professional development opportunities.

  • NAADAC, Association for Addiction Professionals Founded in 1972, NAADAC represents over 100,000 addiction professionals. The association offers networking opportunities, professional development resources, and professional certifications.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Virginia NAMI Virginia educates and advocates for mental health services in the state. It offers professional development resources for counselors and other substance abuse professionals.
  • NAMI Virginia Helpline The helpline provides information on mental health resources, including educational programs and recovery support. The site also lists alcohol and substance abuse crisis numbers.
  • Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia A grassroots recovery community organization, SAARA connects professionals and community members with educational, research, and healthcare resources. SAARA runs a resource library and provides training opportunities.
  • Virginia Association of Addiction Professionals An organization for addiction professionals in Virginia, VAAP offers networking opportunities and training sessions for professionals.
  • Virginia Board of Counseling The Virginia Board of Counseling issues counseling licenses and certifications in the state. The site includes information on the licensure process, with forms and applications for different licenses.
  • Virginia Certification Board A private nonprofit organization, the Virginia Certification Board offers voluntary credentialing for substance abuse, behavioral health, and community health professionals. The board creates standards and testing for addiction counselor certification.
  • Virginia Counselors Association A professional organization for Virginia counselors, VCA hosts an annual convention, offers professional development resources, and provides resources for counseling students.
  • Virginia Department of Health The Virginia Department of Health provides information for healthcare professionals in the state, including resources on substance use disorders, particularly opioid addiction.
  • Virginia Substance Use Disorder Services Run by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the substance use disorder site provides information on services in the state.

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