How to Become a Drug & Alcohol Counselor in California

Addiction counselors provide help overcoming alcohol and drug addiction.
Addiction counselors provide help overcoming alcohol and drug addiction. (Image: Andrea Morini/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Becoming a drug and alcohol counselor can be a rewarding career choice. These professionals help people overcome their substance abuse addictions. The requirements for becoming a certified counselor in this field vary by state; thus, not all states require drug and alcohol counselors to obtain the same credentials as counselors who serve as mental health professionals. In California, certification of drug and counselors is obtained through the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC).

Enroll in a drug and alcohol counseling education program. In California, you must complete at least 315 hours of training education to move forward in the certification process. Schools like the University of the Pacific in Stockton offer certificate programs in this field that can help you meet the necessary education requirements.

Complete the required 255-hour field practicum. This is a hands-on learning experience where you will work in a California drug and alcohol rehabilitation center alongside another qualified professional. This will give you the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the field and ensure you are prepared to continue pursuit of this career path once you have seen what counselors experience daily.

Work for two years as a counselor to gain the necessary experience for certification. You must work for a total of two years or 4,000 hours to qualify for certification, according to the CAADAC. This must be supervised experience that you can document. Drug and alcohol programs in California include PharmaTox in Fairfield, the Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center and the New Bridge Foundation in Berkeley, among others.

Submit your application to the CAADAC along with a portfolio documenting your experience and education. Required documentation is listed in the certification board's manual, available online through the CAADAC website. As of 2011, a $25 fee is required for each portfolio review. Ensure that your portfolio is complete or you will be forced to resubmit and pay the fee each time.

Take the written exam once your portfolio is approved. This is a computer-based exam done through a testing agency. The agency will contact you to schedule the exam once you are approved. You will obtain preliminary exam results immediately upon completion of the exam and the final results in six to eight weeks. You must wait 90 days to retake the exam if you fail.

Pass the oral examination. The process is identical to the written examination, except you will receive no preliminary exam results and must wait four to six weeks for the results.

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