How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is one of many states combating serious substance abuse issues. A study published in 2013 by the nonprofit health policy organization Trust for America's Health found that the number of drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania had risen 89% since 1999, giving the state the 14th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country. It also gave Pennsylvania only 4 out of 10 points for its efforts to curb prescription drug abuse.

Becoming a substance abuse counselor in Pennsylvania means you'll be on the front lines of a difficult battle. The good news is that Pennsylvania has already begun the process of heading off this alarming rise in drug addiction and abuse. In July of 2012, the Commonwealth's Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, formerly part of the Department of Health, became an autonomous agency, dedicated to providing "education, intervention and treatment programs to reduce the drug and alcohol abuse and dependency for all Pennsylvanians." The need for substance abuse counselors in Pennsylvania cannot be understated.

Educational Requirements to Become a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor in Pennsylvania

Along with patience, compassion, and commitment, substance abuse counseling requires mastering a body of knowledge about the physiological and psychological components of chemical dependency. That's just some of the training you'll receive on your path to certification as a licensed substance abuse counselor in Pennsylvania.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), substance abuse counselors in Pennsylvania might be able to start off their career with just a high school diploma. However, if you wish to practice privately, a license is required.

Licensing for substance abuse and addiction counselors in the Commonwealth is handled through the Pennsylvania Certification Board (PCB), a nonprofit organization that sets professional guidelines and offers an accrediting exam for addiction counselors. There are a number of different certifications you may apply for, each with a different educational requirement.

  • Associate Addiction Counselor I or II (AAC): High school diploma or GED
  • Certified Associate Addiction Counselor (CAAC): Associate's degree preferred
  • Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (CCJP): Bachelor's degree
  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC): Bachelor's degree
  • Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAACD): Master's degree

According to the BLS, having a bachelor's degree in behavioral science or addiction counseling might provide better career opportunities for you. But a formal education is just the first step for getting certification in Pennsylvania. There are many additional requirements, depending on which level of licensure you wish to pursue. A few of the major requirements include:

  • One to three years of employment in the field as an alcohol and drug counselor or supervisor (2,000 hours is equivalent to one year)
  • 100 hours of on-the-job supervision
  • 100-150 hours of education relevant to the field of addiction
  • Education in CPR and first aid
  • Pass the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) exam (not required for AACs)

There are many different venues where substance abuse counselors can earn hours working in the field, for example, they are needed in mental health centers, addiction treatment and detox facilities, employee assistance and youth programs.

Benefits of Substance Abuse Counselor Certification in Pennsylvania

As Pennsylvania continues to confront the specter of rising substance abuse and addiction mortality rates, the demand for highly trained, properly licensed substance abuse counselors with CADC certification from the PCB is sure to increase. The BLS is already forecasting significant employment gains in the field of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling -- a far above average increase of 31% from 2012-2022. A good deal of that surge is due to new federal legislation that requires health insurance to cover treatment for substance abuse and addiction. That's good news for Pennsylvania. And it's also good news for those looking to enter the field as a licensed substance abuse counselor.


Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, accessed January 26, 2015, http://www.ddap.pa.gov/portal/server.pt/community/pa_department_of_drug_and_alcohol_programs/20800

Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_pa.htm#31-0000

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-and-behavioral-disorder-counselors.htm#tab-4

Certification Information, Pennsylvania Certification Board, accessed January 21, 2015, https://www.pacertboard.org/certifications

Substance Abuse Counseling Certification in Pennsylvania, HumanServices.Edu, accessed January 21, 2015, http://www.humanservicesedu.org/pennsylvania-substance-abuse-counselor.html

PA. Lawmakers Address Escalating Heroin Use," NewsWorks, Oct. 14, 2013, http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/60847-heroin

"Prescription Drug Abuse, Strategies to Stop the Epidemic," Trust for America's Health, October 2013, http://healthyamericans.org/reports/drugabuse2013/release.php?stateid=PA

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