Addiction Treatment

Understanding Addiction Related Clinical Acronyms

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a doctor talking to a patient about clinical acronyms

When you’re first considering professional treatment for substance abuse (or any other mental/behavioral health issue), reviewing the various clinical acronyms can be overwhelming. What the heck is an LCSW? What’s the difference between a CAC and a CAS? And what exactly can you expect from someone calling herself an SAP?

No doubt, already struggling with the decision to give up substance abuse and with the first tentative steps of deciding what you want instead, you hardly feel like adding “look up thirty acronyms” to your to-do list. To help, we’ve provided below a “spelling out” of some of the more clinical acronyms encountered in substance-abuse and mental-health therapy.

List of Clinical Acronyms Used in Addiction Treatment

This list is intended only as a basic overview and should not be taken as a source of medical advice. Terms also vary in common and sometimes legal meaning; so if any specific type of work or license is important to you, please verify with the individual practitioner.


American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders. More often called simply the American Academy, it is the major international organization for certifying addiction-treatment professionals.


American Board of Pain Medicine. Certifies medical doctors who specialize in pain management, usually pain management involving a multidisciplinary approach that defines “medicine” as more than chemical substances.


American Board of Professional Psychology. Keeps track of officially recognized psychological specialties (currently there are 15, including family psychology, psychoanalysis, and rehabilitation) and provides certifications.


Art Therapist. Art therapists encourage patients to work out issues through drawing, sculpture, and other visual art projects in art therapy. May be registered or certified.


Board Certification in Disability Trauma.


Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress. Deals with stress management as well as post-traumatic stress issues.


Board Certification in Pain Management.


Certified Addiction Counselor. Also used to mean Certified Alcoholism Counselor.


Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor.


Certified Anger Resolution Therapist.


Certified Addiction Specialist. Often used interchangeably with Certified Addiction Counselor (above); but a CAS is required to officially choose one of five specialties: Alcohol, Other Drugs, Sex Addiction, Eating Disorders, or Gambling Disorders.


Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor. Has a master’s degree and works in private practice or for a recognized substance-abuse or mental-health organization. May offer psychological testing and psychotherapy.


Clinical Fellowship. A post-specialty-training, pre-unsupervised-practice period of work, frequently required for new psychiatrists and other medical doctors.


Doctor of Osteopathy. Osteopathy, like chiropractic treatment, emphasizes non-drug pain relief through massage and manipulation of the skeletal system—hence the “osteo,” as in “bone.” However, DOs are also licensed to prescribe medication and to perform a variety of traditional procedures and surgeries. Like more “typical” medical doctors, they undergo extensive formal education before qualifying to practice.


Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor.


Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor.


Licensed Chemical Dependency Professional. May be an LCDC (above) or a public educator or sociologist specializing in dependency issues.


Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Typically provides therapy and counseling to disadvantaged populations with diagnosable mental-health issues.


Licensed Psychological Associate. A professional psychologist with a master’s degree, who requires supervision by a higher-level psychologist when engaging in sensitive work.


Licensed Professional Counselor.


Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner. Usually holds a master’s degree and has served an internship and residency.


Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker. The highest medical level of social worker, licensed to provide certain mental-illness diagnoses (prior to confirmation by a medical doctor) as well as counseling.


Licensed Social Worker. Is licensed by the state to provide mental-health and other counseling, often on behalf of local government, to low-income and at-risk citizens. Comprises various specialties and qualification levels, such as LCSW and LSCSW (above), LAPSW (Licensed Advance Practice Social Worker), LBSW (Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker), LGSW (Licensed Graduate Social Worker), LISW–AP (Licensed Independent Social Worker–Advanced Practice), and LMSW–AP (Licensed Master Social Worker–Advanced Practice).


Master of Counseling. A postgraduate degree (usually including a specialty area) in counseling work.


Master of Social Work degree.


Music Therapist. Similar to Art Therapist (above), but its primary techniques involve patients listening to, actively reacting to, and sometimes performing music.


National Board for Certified Counselors.


Provisionally Licensed Mental Health Practitioner. “Provisional” means that the practitioner has completed his or her formal education in the field, but still needs a specified amount of supervised experience before qualifying for a full license.


Play Therapist. Encourages patients to work out their emotional issues through toy manipulation, simple crafts, active pretending, and interactive games. The therapist may actively participate, encourage the patient to talk out his feelings as he plays, or simply learn by observing. Though typically (and not surprisingly) associated with child therapy, play therapy can easily be modified to serve adults. 


Registered Addiction Therapist. There are also RACs (Registered Addiction Counselors) and RASs (Registered Addiction Specialists). “Registered” normally refers to the lowest level of professional, falling below Certified (mid-level) and Licensed (top level).


Registered Professional Counselor.


Substance Abuse Professional.

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