How to Become an Addiction Counselor in Colorado

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What is Addiction Counseling?


More than 300,000 people are employed by 16,400 employers in the health and wellness sector. Centura Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Kaiser Permanente, Banner Health, and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus also employ thousands of providers.

Those who want to go into addiction counseling must obtain either certification or licensing before they will be legally allowed to act as a professional in the field. The State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners (SBACE) provides the information and links to the education resources and forms needed by those looking to become counselors.

These licenses are required to be renewed periodically. This also requires counselors to update their continuing education hours and submit proof of earning those hours. In addition to the links for the forms and resources, the SBACE also provides news items, laws, resources, public notices, legislative updates, and meeting minutes for counselors who are interested.

An addiction counselor, also called a substance abuse counselor, is a mental health professional who is licensed to treat patients or clients with a chemical dependency disorder. Students earning their addiction counseling degree (or chemical dependency counseling degree) in Colorado may be ready to begin working in this field at the master’s level.

The addiction counselor may work with people who are diagnosed as having an addiction or with those who are concerned that they may become addicted to a substance. The work the counselor does helps their client face their addiction or fear of addiction, helping them to address their dependency so they can return to full self-sufficiency. A substance abuse counselor may also spend some sessions working with their client’s family.

The counselor has one goal in mind: develop a therapeutic rapport with their clients. The client may have difficulty trusting anyone, so developing this relationship with someone who is helping them regain their health may make the process a little easier.


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Addiction Counseling Education in Colorado


In Colorado, addiction counselors are required to hold a master’s degree or their doctorate in addiction counseling. This means they should have already earned their Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC) III. Prospective students may want to check out the licensing and certification requirements as they prepare to enter school.

Before they can use the “LAC” title, they must take the required licensing exam and pass it. This is the Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) exam. It’s the last exam required for an addiction counselor to hold their LAC.

To give themselves a better chance of passing the exam, students might consider taking a practice exam online; other study materials are available on the Colorado State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners website, as well.

Colorado addiction counselors are required to hold one of three certifications. Once they have earned the required master’s degree and passed their licensing exam, they are called Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC). Proof of having completed their required supervised experience is also mandatory.

As of 2018, Colorado’s stop industries ranged from arts, entertainment, recreation and accommodation, and food services. The top industry, by dollar amount, is the real estate, rental and leasing sector, which brought in $55.2 billion.

Educational services, healthcare, and social assistance brought in $26.7 billion. This sector includes addiction counseling services for individuals who need this help and students earning an addictions counseling degree will work with clients who need emotional support while they put their addictions behind them.

Colorado is a western state rich in natural resources, making it the perfect place to house manufacturing companies. Start-ups and Fortune 500 companies have brought their plants to this state, where employers help to produce NASA products. Companies like Arrow Electronics, IBM, and Oracle have also made a home in this state.

Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)

An associate degree in addiction counseling may help a graduate get into the door of a counseling facility to begin working in this profession. This degree program should teach students about behavioral health concepts as they related to substance abuse and addiction. They may also learn about human development, group dynamics, and counseling.

Students will also learn about current trends in addiction counseling, current research findings, and best practices in working with those struggling with addiction. With a degree at this level, graduates may not provide clinical addictions counseling.

However, after students graduate, they may qualify to work in one of the following positions: social service liaison, behavioral health technician, paraprofessional counselor, case manager, respite care worker, peer support worker, community health worker, and family support worker.

Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)

Undergraduate students enrolled in a Colorado university, preparing to begin working in an addiction counseling major, learn more detailed information about human behavior, concepts of sociology and psychology, and learn even more about addiction.

This type of addiction counseling degree program does not meet the requirements for state licensing. Students won’t be ready to become licensed counselors after they graduate, nor will they be able to begin counseling. Students are required to earn their master’s degree in addiction counseling and earn their license to practice before they can start working with clients.

Online coursework focuses on the basics of addiction studies and healthcare ethics. Students also work on addiction-specific topics—assessment, treatment and preventing substance abuse—these are processes that private practices use with their clients. After graduation, students may take exams to earn certified addiction counselor classification. While they won’t be able to directly counsel agency clients, they may have other responsibilities.

Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling (MS)

At this level, graduates with a master’s degree in addiction counseling will be ready to begin working directly with clients who are looking to address their addictions and related mental health issues. As soon as they earn their licensure, they will be able to handle all of the responsibilities involved in counseling people who struggle with substance abuse. They may also act as mental health counselors for clients who suffer from co-occurring disorders (mental illnesses existing side-by-side with substance use disorders).

This degree program covers and explores the development of addictions and their treatment. Much of the course material helps students to prepare for their licensure exam. However, students can still take advantage of study courses provided by the Colorado State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners. Students may also provide clinical mental health counseling as a master’s degree in this area also prepares them for this work.

PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)

At this advanced level, a doctorate in substance abuse counseling can prepare students for research, where they study the human mind, mental disorders, chemical dependency, and counseling. A PhD gives students the foundation needed for both qualitative and qualitative research methods. They also acquire the background in counseling theory they need. Students with a master’s in a different field may enter a PhD program in addiction studies. Doing so may qualify them to earn their license in addictions counseling if they want to become an addiction counselor in Colorado.

Also, some PhD students may be more interested in academia, where they may begin teaching in the best addiction counseling schools in Colorado. The coursework is rigorous, preparing students for their career goals. This type of degree program can also focus on practicing addiction counseling and may include the opportunity for fieldwork-an internship.

Become an Addiction Counselor in Colorado


Before counselors in Colorado are able to begin working, they are required to hold their licensure. This is true for any type of counseling: school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, mental health counseling, career counseling, college counseling, family therapy, clinical mental health counseling, behavioral health counseling, professional mental health counseling, alcohol and drug counseling (addiction counseling), etc. No matter where your interests lie, a license is mandatory.

Depending on the field of counseling the professional is entering, they will be able to find the information for licensure under the appropriate state board.

Graduates of a bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling will want to review information from the Colorado State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners. They may be working toward their goal of becoming substance abuse counselors. Because counselors with a bachelor’s degree are not able to directly counsel clients with addiction disorders, they need to continue in school, earning their master’s degree. In Colorado, substance abuse counselors who are offering clinical services are required to hold a behavioral health master’s degree.

However, would-be counselors who have a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree, as well as the relevant work experience, may be able to earn certification and work with agency clients. These professionals will also have to take and pass the National Counselor Exam (NCE). This is administered and offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This exam asks questions mostly about knowledge of counseling theories.

For students who have met the academic requirements, graduating means they are now able to continue studying for either their certificate or license. Graduates of master’s program in addiction counseling, community counseling, marriage and family therapy, human services counseling, clinical psychology, or a related field, are also required to gain supervised experience. A mental health professional who has held their license for two years may supervise a candidate. Supervisors must work as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), Licensed Psychologists, or Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW). The professional must accruing 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Professionals who have earned their doctoral degrees are required to accumulate at least 1,000 hours of work experience in no less than one year.

Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates


  • Clinical Social Worker
    A clinical social worker focuses on working with clients who have mental health issues. The CSW conducts assessments and develops diagnoses of their clients. Next, they treat their clients for any mental health issues. While their degree is often in social work, they must have the knowledge to counsel their clients.
  • Adult and Geriatric Counselor
    Counselors who work with aging and geriatric adults know that their clients are struggling with new cognitive issues and possible physical limitations that they may not have had before. This professional may also work as a care manager, making family support possible for the geriatric client’s family. They can offer direct care to their client and coordinate care coming in from other professional agencies.
  • Sports Psychologist
    This professional works with both amateur and professional athletes to address issues that are affecting their sports performance. With their degrees in counseling, they aim to help athletes improve their sports performance so they are able to meet the goals they have set for themselves. Gymnast Simone Biles is one example of an athlete who benefits from the help of a sports psychology coach.
  • Health Psychologist
    The health psychologist is focused on how their clients address illness. They explore why some might not follow the advice given by their medical provider and they sometimes find the most effective ways to manage pain. They find ways to help clients change bad health habits and work to find healthcare practices that benefit physical and emotional well-being.
  • Career Counselor
    This professional is more likely to work in an academic setting with students who are making education and career plans. A career counselor can help students evaluate their interests and abilities.
  • Child Counselor
    Child counselors offer therapy to young clients. These may be young children or adolescents who are struggling with mental disorders, but youths who have experienced trauma may also work with a child counselor. Child counselors have the skills needed to offer truly helpful programs to children, adolescents, and teens.
  • Military Counselor
    Members of the military are uniquely challenged by the requirements of their jobs. During deployments, they may see or experience things that may have a lasting impression on them. The military counselor may work with military personnel who are struggling with substance abuse, anxiety, anger management, or depression. To do their work, these counselors may work on military bases oversees, in the U.S., and in military hospitals.
  • Group Counselor or Therapist
    Group counseling may be described as killing two birds with one stone. Clients discuss their issues with the group counselor and, at the same time, interact with other group members. The group counselor may challenge them to step back and think about how they interact with others. They may also help group members to realize that they share many of the same issues with other group members.
  • Residential Counselor
    This professional works with clients who are in residential treatment for one or more mental health issue; this may include substance abuse. The residential counselor directs the residents, helping to provide them with basic needs and resources that they need for their daily living. The counselor may also ensure that the community is safe by enforcing safety guidelines.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    A mental health counselor helps clients (families and individuals) to handle difficult emotions. They may work with clients who are dealing with trauma. The mental health counselor offers therapy and coaching on how to best deal with the issues confronting each client. One therapy session may focus on recovery, while another addresses the management of mental conditions with their clients.
  • Behavioral Therapist
    This professional works with clients dealing with conditions such as autism or schizophrenia. They also work with clients suffering from mental disorders, alcoholism, anxiety, or depression. A behavioral therapist discusses with their clients what they want to change, such as negative thoughts or behaviors and they create problem-solving methods and give homework assignments to help their clients achieve their goals.

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