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Preparing for Certification as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor in California Post-Education

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Preparing for Certification as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor in California Post-Education

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Alcohol and drug counselor certification in California is a critical step in demonstrating your knowledge, skills, and abilities to provide high-quality substance abuse counseling services. The certification process entails meeting specific education, experience, and examination requirements.

Education Recap

Your vocational training in alcohol and drug counseling provided you with the foundational knowledge and skills essential for effective practice. After completing the Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies Program at InterCoast Colleges, students will learn the skills and knowledge necessary to work in the substance use disorder counseling field. Specifically, graduates will have learned how to:

  • Communicate effectively with individuals and families affected by substance use
  • Facilitate various types of counseling groups
  • Equip clients with healthy coping skills to prevent relapse
  • Maintain and provide private medical records in accordance with relevant regulations and laws
  • Understand the importance of the therapeutic alliance in substance use disorder counseling
  • Gain effective counseling techniques

In addition to these specific skills, students will also develop an understanding of the causes and effects of addiction, as well as the various treatment modalities available. They will also learn about the ethical and legal considerations involved in substance use disorder counseling.

Graduates of the program will be prepared to work in various settings, including treatment centers, hospitals, schools, and social service agencies. They will also be eligible to take the California certification examination offered through one of the three main certifying bodies, as explained below.

Understanding Certification Requirements in California

In California, the path to becoming a certified alcohol and drug counselor is governed by three main certifying bodies: CAADE, CADTP, and CCAPP, each with its distinct set of requirements.

1. California Association for Alcohol and Drug Educators (CAADE)

CAADE offers various levels of certification, each with its own requirements:

RAC (Registered Addiction Counselor): This is a registration level for those working on becoming fully certified but haven’t passed the CATC Exam or met the full certification requirements.

CATC (Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor): Requires meeting the minimum ACCBC and DHCS requirements for AOD certification.

CATC I: Requires a Certificate of Completion from a 30-semester unit approved AOD/ADS Program, such as the Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies program offered at InterCoast Colleges, which is a CAADE-approved program.

CATC II: Requires an Associate Degree in Addiction Studies or a related field.  InterCoast Colleges offers an Associates of Applied Sciences in Substance Use Disorder Counseling, which is approved by CAADE.

CATC III: Requires a Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Studies or a related field.  InterCoast Colleges offers a Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Studies, which is approved by CAADE.

CATC IV: Requires a Master’s Degree in Addiction Studies or a related field.

CATC V: Requires a Doctoral Degree in Addiction Studies or a related field.

CATC N: Requires a Nursing Degree in Addiction Studies or a related field.

2. California Association of DUI Treatment Programs (CADTP)

CADTP’s requirements include:

Initial Registration: Applicants must reside in California at least 51% of the time and complete a 9-hour orientation course. A registration fee, a signed Code of Conduct/Ethics, a copy of a State ID, and a 2×2 photo of the applicant are also required.

Within Five Years of Registration: Applicants must complete 315 hours of formal SUD-specific education, 255 hours of supervised SUD training, 2,080 hours of SUD counseling work experience, and pass the IC&RC Exam. InterCoast Colleges’ Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies Program is approved by CADTP.

Various Certification Levels: Such as SUDCC II-CS (Clinical Supervisor), SUDCC III-CS, SUDCC, SUDCC III, SUDCC IV, and SUDCC IV-CS, each with specific requirements regarding education level, SUD work experience, and clinical supervisor education.

3. California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)

For the CADC-I Credential without a degree, CCAPP requires:

315 hours of approved education.

255 hours of supervised work experience (field practicum).

3,000 hours of supervised work experience (including all practicum hours).

Passing score on the IC&RC ADC examination.

Renewal every two years, with continuing education required.

Each body’s approach reflects a commitment to thorough, well-rounded preparation for counselors, ensuring they are equipped to handle the complexities of addiction counseling. This diverse certification landscape in California underscores the importance of specialized education and practical experience in the field.

InterCoast Colleges’ Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies Program is approved by CCAPP.

Steps to Prepare for the Certification Examination

Create a Study Schedule

Develop a structured study plan that allows you to review all of the relevant material at a pace that works for you. Set realistic goals and break down the material into manageable chunks. Utilize the materials provided to you by the certifying body, the school you attended, and other materials available from your classes. 

Attend an Exam Preparation Course at InterCoast 

InterCoast Colleges offers IC&RC examination preparation courses for students, graduates, and those who are in the field at no cost.  Contact InterCoast at 1-877-227-3377 to add your name to the preparation sessions.  You will meet others who are entering the field or are already working as an alcohol and drug counselor.  This is a great way not only to prepare for testing but also to meet others in the same field and network on job opportunities.

Join a Study Group

Joining a local or online study group can be a great way to stay motivated and learn from others. You can quiz each other, discuss difficult concepts, and share tips.

Practical Experience

Gaining supervised work experience is essential for certification. Look for opportunities to work with a licensed alcohol and drug counselor in a clinical setting.

Mock Examinations

Taking practice exams is a great way to assess your knowledge and identify areas where you need to focus your studies. There are practice exams available online or in test preparation books available.

Exam Day Preparation

The night before the exam, get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy meal. On the exam day, arrive early and have a light breakfast. Bring all of the necessary materials, including your identification, pencils, and erasers.

Post Exam

After the exam, take some time to relax. Once you receive your results, you can apply for certification.

Additional Certifications and Training

In addition to basic certification, you may also want to consider pursuing additional specialty certifications or training. For example, the CCAPP offers certifications in specialized areas such as co-occurring disorders and trauma and Prevention Specialists.  There are many specialty certifications available as you advance in your career and perhaps determine an area of specialty or focus for your career.

Support and Resources

There are many resources available to support you in your preparation for certification. Here are a few suggestions:

  • CCAPP website: The CCAPP website provides information on certification requirements, approved education programs, and study materials.
  • CAADE website: The CAADE website also provides information on certification requirements and study materials.
  • Study guides: Many study guides are available for purchase online or at bookstores.
  • Practice exams: There are many free and paid practice exams available online.
  • Forums: There are many online forums where you can connect with other aspiring alcohol and drug counselors.
  • Professional associations: Professional associations such as the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Counselors (CAADAC) offer support and resources to members.
  • Mentors: Reach out to previous teachers, academic mentors, clinical coordinators or other professionals in the field for advice and support.


Preparing for certification as an alcohol and drug counselor in California can be a challenging but rewarding process. By following the tips above, you can increase your chances of success.

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