Improving access to quality health care continues to be on the forefront of state legislative agendas. Many states are exploring policies addressing the workforce in order to improve access to care. Using addiction counselors to provide behavioral health services in areas that lack behavioral health providers is one strategy states are increasingly examining.
Addiction counselors work with people who suffer from a range of substance use disorders (SUDs). An SUD can involve addiction to alcohol, opioids and other substances. Addiction counselors work in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient facilities, sober living homes, hospitals and various community organizations.
Becoming an addiction counselor can be achieved in multiple ways, from earning a certification with a high school diploma to becoming a licensed counselor through an advanced behavioral health degree with a focus on addiction treatment.
Many states offer multiple paths to the same credential (e.g., license and certification). The credential can be obtained by earning either a master’s, bachelor’s or associate degree or a high school diploma. The greater level of education achieved may be substituted for some of the required practice. For example, a high school graduate may need six years of experience to receive the credential, while someone with a graduate degree only needs one year of experience. In addition, individuals who have received a graduate degree are more likely to be authorized to diagnose and practice independently.
NCSL tracks trends and policies around addiction counselors on its Scope of Practice Policy website (www.scopeofpracticepolicy.org). This website is a resource for state policymakers to learn more about scope of practice policies for various providers, including other behavioral health providers.