substance abuse counselor

6 Steps to Take to Become a Substance Abuse Mental Health Professional

by | Sep 21, 2021

Substance abuse is a national crisis, with almost 20 million American adults suffering from addiction. Whether you know someone personally or you want to help fight this raging epidemic, you could make a true impact as a substance abuse mental health professional; qualified professionals are needed now more than ever.

To perform your job well, you need to complete a comprehensive training and certification process. And while each state will have its own specific requirements, many will require similar components.

  1. Earn a College Degree: Some states only require a high school diploma and some comprehensive training, but most ask for a bachelor’s or graduate degree in areas such as Psychology, Sociology, Social Work or a similar major. Earning a degree gives you theoretical and practical knowledge and a deep understanding of human behavior and psychology.
  2. Pass a Background Check: To work in the field and obtain a license through your state professional board, you will need to pass a complete background check. You will be required to report your record including convictions, homicide, capital offenses, sexual offenses involving a child, multiple sexual offenses involving an adult victim, felonies, misdemeanors, indictments, court-ordered community supervision, and probation.
  3. Get Supervised Clinical Experience: Before you can become a certified substance abuse mental health professional, you will need to get authorization to perform your field hours. Under the supervision of an approved mental health professional, you will get on-the-job training and the opportunity to practice what you learned in school and sharpen your skills before you provide counseling on your own.
  4. Pass a Certification Exam: Once you complete the required hours, you can apply to take a substance abuse certification exam such as the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors exam or the International Certification Reciprocity Consortium level II exam. When you are approved, you will then need to pay for, take, and pass the exam. The board will receive notice of your grade. Be sure to check into the individual requirements for your state before applying for the exam.
  5. Receive State Licensure: Once your full application has been approved by the state board, you will receive your certification. You will be required to renew it annually and complete continuing education. Licensure requirements vary by state. Make sure to check with licensing boards of the states in which you plan to work.
  6. Decide Where You Want to Work: There are many options of where you might work and where your skills may be most needed including:
    • Hospitals
    • Substance abuse rehabilitation centers
    • Detention centers
    • Schools
    • Social and human service facilities

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselor Job Outlook

The demand for substance abuse and mental health counselors is critical and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that it will grow much faster than average for the next decade. As a professional in the field, you would diagnose and assess addiction problems and provide a variety of treatments for clients. You could also save lives. At the very least, you’ll have the opportunity to positively impact others every day. This vital career is characterized by service to others, continuous learning opportunities, and the chance to work with diverse populations. You might be involved in:

  • Individual counseling
  • Relapse prevention
  • Referrals
  • Family counseling
  • Group therapy


Bluefield University is a Christian college that provides you with the tools, knowledge, and support you need to live a fulfilling career of service to others. We offer an online Master of Arts in Counseling degree that is administered by seasoned professionals who truly care about your future. Learn more about this and all our programs.

Do I only apply once?

  • No. Students must apply each academic year for the fall semester and submit the necessary documents.

Do I have to take the classes specified in the Associate's Degree tracks as they are listed on the information sheet?

  • No. Students may take any of the courses that are offered in a given term.

Where do I find the textbook listing, and where do I purchase the books?

  • Log in to myBU, and under the "Student" tab, you will find a list of the textbooks required (if any) for each course. Students are responsible for purchasing their own textbooks.

How long is a semester?

  • Our semesters are divided into two 8-week terms.

Is there an orientation?

  • Yes. Students can attend an orientation session that explains how to access courses, how to register for classes, and answers other questions.

Where can I find a course description?

Does the student need to take the SAT or ACT in order to take Dual Enrollment classes?

  • No. If a student decides to study at BU full time, BU is currently test-optional for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle.

Are the classes live? Do students need to log in and participate at certain times?

  • Classes are offered online, so a student can log-on and study at their convenience and their own pace. Students have assignments due each week; you can complete your assignments at any point in time before the deadline.

Does an Early College student need to come to campus for anything?

  • No. However, we would love to have you visit our campus if you are interested in continuing with traditional on-campus study. Students who complete their associate's degree have the option to walk at our commencement ceremony.

Are Early College students able to receive Financial Aid?

  • No. However, Early College courses are very affordable compared to other options. The cost for an online Dual Enrollment course is $100 per credit hour.

How do transferring credits work?

  • Each College or University completes a transcript review in order to decide which courses transfer. Sticking to general education classes generally makes transferring credits simple. All Early College courses at Bluefield University are general education classes that should transfer to another accredited institution.

Is an Early College student considered, and treated, as a transfer student when they become a full-time college student if they have earned enough credits to be a Junior?

  • No. Since they have not graduated from high school, they are considered a first-time college student regardless of how many credits transfer. However, by transferring credits when they enroll as a full-time student, they will have to take fewer classes to receive their bachelor's degree, which shortens the length of time to earn the degree.

Can I speak to someone if I have more questions?

  • Yes. Please contact the Office of Admissions by email or you can call them at 276.326.4231


Meet our core Counseling faculty

Dr. Challen Mabry

Assistant Professor of Counseling

Dr. Kristen Moran

Associate Professor of Counseling

Brandy Smith

Assistant Professor of Education & Counseling,
Director of the Master of Arts in Counseling Program,
Title IX Confidential Counselor

Our team is here for you! How can we help?

This form requires credentials in order to request information.