How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Washington

Substance abuse counselors help clients recover from substance use disorders. Over 8,000 substance abuse and mental health counselors work in Washington state, providing vital services for clients. In Washington, substance abuse counselors must complete and maintain chemical dependency professional certification. Washington counseling requirements include education requirements, such as chemical dependency coursework, and passing scores on a substance abuse exam.

Candidates for Washington chemical dependency certification apply through the Washington State Department of Health, which reviews application materials, conducts background checks, and grants certifications. The Department of Health also provides guidelines for out-of-state counselors. Professionals must renew their credentials annually by meeting continuing education requirements. This guide outlines how to become a substance abuse counselor in Washington.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Washington

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Education and Experience Requirements

Substance abuse counselors in Washington must complete education and experience requirements to qualify for certification. These requirements, set by the Washington State Legislature, ensure that substance abuse counselors receive appropriate career training before treating clients. The state also mandates coursework covering key chemical dependency and counseling topics.

Academic Requirements

Chemical dependency professionals in Washington must hold at least an associate degree or the equivalent from an approved school, with a minimum of 45 quarter or 30 semester credits of chemical dependency courses. Coursework must cover topics such as addiction treatment methods, clinical evaluation of chemical dependency, service coordination, and chemical dependency counseling for families and significant others. Prospective substance abuse counselors in Washington can learn more about counseling education and degrees.


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

Washington requires substance abuse counselors to complete courses in several subjects, including chemical dependency rules and regulations, confidentiality and ethical responsibilities, preventing relapse, and chemical dependency case management. The state also requires certified substance abuse counselors to receive training in adolescent chemical dependency assessment and treatment. Candidates for certification must submit official transcripts. If the transcript does not verify course topics or identify courses, applicants must provide course syllabi. Candidates must also pass an examination.

Practicum and Supervised Practice

Washington's experience requirements vary by the applicant's degree. Candidates with an associate degree must demonstrate 2,500 hours of chemical dependency experience, while those with a bachelor's degree must show 2,000 hours. Candidates with a master's or doctoral degree must hold 1,500 hours of experience,

The Exam and Application Process for Washington Substance Abuse Counselors

Candidates must submit official transcripts, demonstrate professional experience requirements, and provide information on all states where they received or applied for a credential to the Washington State Department of Health. Applicants must also show four hours of HIV/AIDS training and answer personal data questions. All applicants submit a Social Security number with their application.

Candidates must pass either the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) exam or the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) exam

Substance abuse counselors in Washington must also pass an examination. Candidates can choose between the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) exam or the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) exam. On the NAADAC exam, candidates must pass level one or higher, while candidates must pass level two or higher on the IC&RC exam. Candidates must send verification directly from NAADAC or IC&RC, or from the state where the candidate passed the exam. Candidates who complete the exam as part of their education can ask their school to verify their passing scores.

After submitting the required materials, a credentialing specialist at the Department of Health reviews the candidate's application. Substance abuse counselors must undergo a background check and submit all required fees.

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates

Washington state does not offer reciprocity with other states. However, out-of-state substance abuse counselors can apply with the Washington State Department of Health, which determines whether the candidate's credential meets Washington requirements. Candidates with substantially equivalent credentials do not need to complete Washington's examination requirement.

Out-of-state counselors must submit official transcripts, exam scores, and information about other licenses or certifications they hold. Washington accepts national certifications, including the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders certified addiction specialists credential and the American Psychological Association certificate of proficiency in the treatment of psychoactive substance abuse disorders.

Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

In Washington, the chemical dependency professional certification remains valid for one year. Substance abuse counselors must renew their certification annually or before their birthday. To meet renewal requirements, professionals must complete 40 hours of continuing education credits every two years. Those hours must include at least four hours of professional ethics and law, three hours of suicide assessment training, and 14 hours in an approved topic area.

Substance abuse counselors must renew their certification annually or before their birthday

Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Washington

Substance abuse counselors in Washington can take advantage of professional organizations and resources to stay current in the field, complete licensing and continuing education requirements, and network with other professionals. These resources offer conferences and events, professional development tools, and resources for clients.

  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute Run by the University of Washington, the ADAI offers a resource center with information on drug and alcohol abuse. The ADAI clearinghouse includes materials for federal, state, and community organizations.
  • Association of Alcoholism and Addiction Programs of Washington State A trade organization for Washington chemical dependency treatment programs, the AAP advocates for people in need. The association holds an annual conference with networking opportunities.
  • Behavioral Health Administration Washington state's BHA promotes sustainable recovery and wellness by funding prevention and intervention services. The administration also provides treatment and recovery support for people with addiction and mental health conditions.
  • Chemical Dependency Professionals of Washington State CDWPS, an affiliate of NAADAC, connects chemical dependency professionals and advocates for policy. The organization recommends standards for substance use disorder programs and personnel in Washington.
  • Chemical Dependency Training Consortium of the Northwest The consortium offers low-cost training opportunities for mental health and addiction treatment providers. The training qualifies for continuing education credits.
  • NAADAC, Association for Addiction Professionals A national association founded in 1972, NAADAC represents over 100,000 addiction counselors and educators. The association offers certifications, professional development resources, and educational materials for addiction professionals.
  • Northwest Addiction Technology Transfer Center The Northwest ATTC offers services to strengthen substance use disorder treatment, including promoting evidence-based practices, offering technical assistance, and consulting on behavioral healthcare changes.
  • WA Recovery Helpline The Washington Recovery Helpline provides confidential 24-hour support for people with substance use disorders or mental health challenges. The site also provides professional resources on substance abuse.
  • Washington State Association of Independent Outpatient Programs WSAIOP represents independent outpatient programs and professionals, offering information on the legislative process, access to training events, and discounts on screening tools for members.
  • Washington State Department of Health The Washington DOH provides information on behavioral health agencies, regulations and licensing information, and information about the state's inspection process.

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