How to Become an Addiction Counselor in Kentucky

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What is Addiction Counseling?


Over the course of this new century, drug addiction has taken a drastic turn for the worse. Once pharmaceutical companies started urging doctors to overprescribe opioid medications such as oxycontin, rates of addiction and overdose ran out of control. The state of Kentucky was hit hard, as the state had formerly had little problem with hard drugs.

On top of the opioid epidemic, states like Kentucky were also hit with escalating rates of amphetamine abuse and addiction. Since the drug was easy to manufacture in both urban and rural areas, it spread throughout the state. State officials in government and higher education recognized the problems, however, and sprang into action.

An addiction counselor is a mental health professional who works exclusively with clients or patients who suffer from substance abuse disorder. In Kentucky, these counselors are needed to help treat the victims of the opioid epidemic, which as ravaged this state along with the rest of the nation. Thus, most addiction counselors work for drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.

Rehabilitation centers service many different populations who are suffering with addiction. There are centers that may be exclusively for women, others cater to men only. There are also centers that have a specific religious focus and those that welcome all faiths. Addiction counselors also work with adolescents and, to a lesser extent, the aged.

Finally, addiction counselors may work in private practice, if their Kentucky licensure supports that professional choice. Others may work with state social service agencies, prisons, or private organizations dedicated to amending the scourge of addiction.


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Addiction Counseling Education in Kentucky


Kentucky's colleges and universities have long offered courses in addiction counseling and the state has instituted licensure regulations for multiple tiers of addiction counselors. In fact, Kentucky citizens who wish to be a part of the solution to these problems can engage the licensure process with only a high school diploma, or the equivalent.

However, it's advised to seek at least an associate degree from one of Kentucky's terrific community colleges. With a two-year degree in addiction counseling, graduates can land a credential as an addiction counselor and get to work in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. While they can achieve the same credential with only a high school diploma, employers will be more likely to hire someone with a two-year degree. Furthermore, an associate degree will help counselors springboard into a bachelor’s counseling degree program, where they can increase their earnings.

Over time, it's hoped that Kentucky can overcome its problems with opioids, alcohol, and methamphetamine but, in the meantime, it's vital that Kentucky continue to educate aspiring counselors. In fact, these days, use and abuse of highly potent forms of opioid drugs, namely Fentanyl, and extreme new forms of methamphetamine are hitting the streets. When these substances don't decimate their victim, they still create an addict that can be a terror to their friends, family, and co-workers.

Since addiction is such a widespread problem that does not discriminate on any basis, the state of Kentucky, as well as most others, licenses addiction counseling professionals at several different levels. This is an effort to provide mental health services to as many substance abuse sufferers as possible. In fact, a variety of mental health professionals work in the addiction counseling field including social workers, psychologists, and pastoral counselors.

The state of Kentucky provides an array of specific licenses for addiction counselors. The requirements range from a high school diploma to a master’s degree. This is to help provide substance abusers with a range of counselors who can help them return to sanity and health.

Those who operate with a bachelor’s degree or less are not able to work with addicts on a one-on-one basis, but they can work in rehabilitation clinics including outpatient and tele-health centers. In order to conduct individual therapy, or even family therapy, as an independent counseling professional, the Kentucky Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors requires a master’s counseling degree.

Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)

While the state of Kentucky will provide a license to a person with only a high school diploma or the equivalent, an associate addiction counseling degree is likely the best credential for those just starting out. This is because an associate addiction counseling degree will provide students with a focused academic background in the field. Many programs will even include practical learning experiences in which students intern with drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. These experiential learning courses will be of great value to students as they assess their career choices and then look for work in the field.

An associate addiction counseling degree is also a valuable credential to have when one desires to advance in the profession. Associate degrees include the core curriculum for a Kentucky bachelor’s degree so students can practice their profession for a few years and then re-enter college prepared to focus on counseling courses and graduate after another two years of school.

Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)

A bachelor’s addiction counseling degree is perhaps the best steppingstone to a successful career in this field. This is because most employers tend to prefer a four-year degree to a two-year counseling degree from a community college. In the course of a bachelor’s degree, students can study not only addiction counseling but also psychology, sociology, and even economics to help understand the full scope of the problem.

The state of Kentucky will confer addiction counseling licenses to students eager to dive into the field. This licensure level will not allow professionals to work one-on-one with patients or counselors, but it can support lots of other duties. For instance, a counselor with a bachelor’s addiction counseling degree can work with a counselor who holds a master’s counseling degree in group therapy or other settings. Later, when they return to school for a master’s degree, this experience will prove invaluable. The experience may even help satisfy state requirements for the next licensure level.

Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling (MS)

Students who complete a master’s addiction counseling degree will be able to attain one of Kentucky's top licensure levels: that of licensed alcohol and drug counselor or licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. This level of academic achievement will entitle the holder to pursue the exact career they desire. They will be licensed to work with clients one-on-one, whether in a rehabilitation center or their own private practice.

With a master’s addiction counseling degree, licensed counselors can also work as supervisors in rehabilitation centers. With more experience, they might even move into more of an administrative role in which they oversee others with their same licensure, as well as those who work as licensed counselor associates. Those who are licensed for clinical drug and alcohol counseling may even branch out into private practice. These professionals might spend all of their time conducting therapy with individuals or they may work as interventionists who help families find the help they need. Very often, addiction counselors will do both.

PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)

This is the pinnacle of academic achievement and can help anyone launch a fruitful career in addiction counseling. To earn a license with a PhD, professionals must still pass a professional examination, provide letters of reference, and complete a period of supervised practice. However, with a PhD, the required supervised period is less.

Doctorate addiction counseling degree holders also have the benefit of being able to charge more for their services. This is particularly true of those in private practice because insurers will reimburse practitioners at a higher rate when they complete their PhD.

A doctorate degree has the added benefit of opening more career opportunities. This advanced degree is desired in academia and so the holder can pursue work as a college or university professor. While it is possible to teach at this level with a master’s degree, those with a PhD are far more likely to land full-time, tenure track positions.

Become an Addiction Counselor in Kentucky


Kentucky, like so many states, has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic. With addiction and overdose rates skyrocketing faster than corporate profits, the state is in need of as many addiction counselors as possible. To meet this need, the state has provided accessible ways for its citizens to become addiction counselors who can treat the substance abuse disorder that threatens the fabric of society.

To become an addiction counselor in Kentucky, it's necessary to earn a license to practice. Since there is such a high demand for substance abuse counseling professionals in Kentucky, the state has a tiered system that is accessible for most aspiring addiction counselors. In fact, to earn a certification or licensure as a Drug Counselor Associate I, all that is required is a high school diploma plus additional coursework in chemical dependency or 400 hours of documented experience that is directly related. With experience, drug counselors can earn the second associate level.

The next level is that of the alcohol and drug counselor. This credential requires either a bachelor’s counseling degree or status as an Associate II. This level also requires a written examination and 12 months of experience, or completion of a board-sponsored training. Finally, Kentucky confers licensure for alcohol and drug counselors.

To earn the top licensure level, counselors must earn a master’s degree in a human services field that includes a clinical application. Candidates for this license must also pass an examination, complete supervised work experience, and satisfy the Board's ethics standards, including six hours of classroom training, three hours of domestic violence training, and two hours training related to HIV. Candidates must also provide two letters of recommendation.

For the lower credentials, it's recommended that counselors earn an associate addiction counseling degree. This is because, if they want to advance later, those college credits can help them get ahead faster. For those who want to start work with only a high school diploma, there are options, including an online addiction counseling degree. Their local community college may have other options, including night courses or other flexible measures.

Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates


  • School Counselor:
    These counseling professionals work in schools, where they help students overcome difficulties that may interfere with their schoolwork. They can also help students work through difficulties with peers or their home life. To become a school counselor in Kentucky, a master’s degree is required. School counselors should also earn a teaching certification.
  • Clinical Social Worker:
    While most social workers don't necessarily need a degree, clinical social workers need a master’s social work degree. With an MSW, the state of Kentucky will allow them to work as independent counseling professionals. While similar work is accessible with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, an MSW allows holders to work as therapists or with a state or non-profit social services agency.
  • Organizational Counselor:
    These counseling professionals work with employees; usually they are employed by large organizations. Their goal is to help the organization maintain employee satisfaction. They can also work to help ease conflicts between employees or other interested parties. Organizational counselors may lead corporate retreats and help groups work as a more cohesive whole or they might work with individuals to help them become more effective leaders.
  • Adult and Geriatric Counselor:
    As we age, there are new and unexpected issues that arise. There are also old issues that change relative to our particular developmental stage. Adult and geriatric counselors are trained to work with people in more advanced stages of life. They may help them come to terms with their mortality or they may help them become more effective with their children, siblings, or peers. Given our rapidly aging population, this profession is seeing increased demand.
  • Sports Psychologist:
    While this profession is most well-known for helping top professional athletes achieve their very best, the profession is more diverse than that. Many sports psychologists work as coaches, often without a license. Their knowledge of how to motivate athletes of all ages is invaluable for their teams. Sports psychologists may also run sports clinics or otherwise carve their own path.
  • Career Counselor:
    These professionals are most often found working for Kentucky colleges and universities. They typically have a master’s degree in career counseling and guidance. Thus, they work with college students to help them navigate college with the goal of landing the career of their dreams. While they may work with students on an individual basis, they also organize regular job fairs and conduct community outreach in hopes of facilitating internships or other career enhancing activities for students.
  • Mental Health Counselor:
    These mental health professionals work with a master’s degree, often in clinical psychology. However, licensed clinical social workers also may call themselves mental health counselors. To work in this capacity, counseling professionals need a Kentucky license to practice.
  • Group Counselor or Therapist:
    These counseling professionals are often mental health counselors who choose to work with groups. They may have a practice that focuses on individuals but, when they find a selection of patients who have similar struggles, they gather them for group sessions.

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