An Overview of Addiction Treatment Credentials and What They Mean

If you or someone you love is in need of treatment program for substance use, you should do your homework before deciding on a program. There is no “one size fits all” treatment; a program should be tailored to fit an individual’s needs and often involves a combination of medication and counseling. But who is doing the counseling and prescribing the medications? It’s important for you to know and to feel confident that the chosen treatment is the best fit for you or your loved one.

You will want to get an independent assessment of the need for treatment, as well as the kind of treatment needed, by an expert who is not affiliated with the program you are considering, Anne M. Fletcher advises in an interview with The New York Times. [i]

If you have come into contact with a facility that treats addictions, you may have noticed that there are many types of professionals, each with different titles. Each person has a specific job and has been trained for it. These might include:

  • Family or primary care doctor
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Physician assistant
  • Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses
  • Psychotherapist, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor
  • Pharmacist
  • Social worker

For each of these professions, there is required licensing or certifications. In addition to the education and state licenses needed, many of these may include an additional level of expertise. There are credentials available that are specific to addiction.

What are the Credentials?

A system of credentialing has been developed so that it is easier to tell who is qualified to administer what type of treatment. If you are seeking treatment for addiction, you may need to familiarize yourself with the levels and types so you can make sure the facility you are considering has people with the right education for the job.

Check the credentials of the program’s personnel. Fletcher says your counselor should have “at least a master’s degree,” and that if the therapist is a physician, he or she should be certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine.[ii]

The purpose of credentialing is to standardize the quality of addiction prevention, intervention, treatment and continuing care services. One such group, the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals[iii] (NCC-AP), does this through standardized testing and monitors the abilities of those who treat addictions. Because the NCC-AP is connected to the profession and to those who are using the credential on a day-to-day basis, the tests are evaluated annually to ensure they address the latest information on treating addiction disorders.

The NCC-AP gives three main credentials for addiction counselors:

These credentials indicate levels of knowledge and formal training, based on the skill set of the substance use disorder professional, according to the NCC-AP.

The American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders also has a certification program. The Certified Addiction Specialist (CAS) credential[iv] is a clinical certification based upon experience providing treatment under the direction of a qualified clinical supervisor, specialized training and a written examination. There are five categories of specialization:

  • alcohol addiction
  • drug addiction
  • eating disorders
  • sex addiction
  • gambling addiction

The CAS certification may be obtained by someone with a medical degree, but also earned by someone with a bachelor’s or no degree. Those with medical degrees complete three years (6,000 hrs) of supervised experience providing direct health care services to those identified with an addiction disorder. Individuals without a medical degree must complete five years (10,000 hrs) of full-time supervised experience providing direct health care services to those identified with an addiction disorder, as well as compile a portfolio of clinical education with documentation of a minimum of 270 hours of formal education.

Another group that provides direction is the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADC), offering education, advocacy, standards of practice, ethics, professional development and research.[v]

What to Look For

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment outcomes depend on the:

  • extent and nature of the person’s problems
  • appropriateness of treatment
  • availability of additional services

quality of interaction between the person and his or her treatment providers

With this in mind, NIDA suggests considering and asking these questions when you are looking for a drug treatment program[vi]:

  1. Does the program use treatments backed by scientific evidence?
  2. Does the program tailor treatment to the needs of each patient?
  3. Does the program adapt treatment as the patient’s needs change?
  4. Is the duration of treatment sufficient?
  5. How do 12-Step or similar recovery programs fit into drug addiction treatment?

If you are considering a treatment program for yourself or someone else, contact our admissions coordinators for more information. They can help explain the credentials available and what they mean, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


[i] “Effective Addiction Treatment,” by Jane E. Brody, The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2013,

[ii]  American Board of Addiction Medicine,

[iii] National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals,

[iv] American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders,

[v]  National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADC),

[vi]  “Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask,” National Institute of Drug Abuse,

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