Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will either hold a certificate or a license to practice in the US.

What does it mean to be certified versus licensed?

Certification is a process that ensures the public that someone has the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to do a particular job. It typically involves required training, practical experience, such as an internship, and an exam. Earning certification lets everyone know that you are qualified to do the job.

The requirements for certification vary by type of certification and by state. In some states, a person is not allowed to do a particular kind of job unless they have certification or are working towards it.

In private practices, substance abuse counselors must be not only certified but licensed. So what’s the difference between certification and licensure?


● Workers with a high school diploma typically go through a period of on-the-job training, which prepares counselors to respond to a crisis situation and interact with people with addictions.

● Certification as a substance abuse counselor is possible for individuals with a high school diploma if they complete an approved training program, get experience in the field and pass the exam.

● Types of certifications available for individuals with a high school diploma vary from state to state.

● Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed.

● Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require a master’s degree and between 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

● In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete continuing education every year to maintain licensure.

Each license or certification lists its own requirements. In some states a person is not allowed to do a particular kind of job unless they have certification or are working towards it. Find contact information for your state’s regulating board for counselors here:

Real Testimonials from ATI Students

“Since taking advantage of the incredible program at ATI, I’m a respected and knowledgeable advocate for those seeking treatment and support in managing the monster that is Substance Use Disorder. Rather than simply wanting people to get the help they need, I am now certified and licensed to do what I’m so passionate about and help provide for myself and my family. I worked full time and cared for three children at home all while doing the program in my own time. The staff was incredibly knowledgeable, supportive and far more responsive than any online class from a university. ATI was life changing for me.”

– Stacy S.

“I feel that I gained a substantial amount of knowledge on the progression of the war on drugs and the way that the government has handled these in various areas of the world including the USA.“

– Katelyn D.

“I liked learning more about what clients are actually experiencing and the ways people are affected differently by drug misuse when they are going through addiction.“

– Marian D.

Counselor Certification vs. Counselor License