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Substance Abuse Nurse Practitioner Certification

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Nurse practitioners are members of the group called advanced practice registered nurses, registered nurses who have additional education and special licensure that allows them to perform physician functions. Although 87 percent of NPs are educated in primary care, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, some choose to specialize in fields such as mental health or substance abuse.

Educational Basics

Beginning in 2012, all APRNS will graduate with a doctorate, as master’s degree programs are being phased out, according to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. In addition to affecting educational programs, this change will also affect certification exams and status. The APNA notes that the Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health Nurse Practitioner certificate, which some nurses who practice in substance abuse hold, will be retired after 2014. However, nurses who hold that credential will continue to be certified as long as they do not allow the credential to lapse.

The Mental Health Field

Nurse practitioners are educated for both a particular population and for a work setting. NPs are also certified according to their training and work setting. An NP who trained in critical care, for example, cannot be certified in primary care or pediatrics, which are different work settings. In mental health, the designation is Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. PMHNPs may or may not work in the area of substance abuse, but other NPs are unlikely to work in this field because they do not have the proper training to obtain certification.

Certifying for Addictions

The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers NP certifications in adult psychiatric mental health and psychiatric mental health. Although neither is specific to substance abuse, NPs who are certified in these areas may treat patients who have substance abuse disorders or addictions. An NP who wants to be certified specifically in substance abuse and addiction can become certified in that specialty through the International Nurses Society on Addictions. The certification is called CARN, for Certified Addictions Registered Nurse. NPs can be certified in both their primary specialty and addictions.

The Certification Process

An NP who wants to apply for CARN certification must meet eligibility requirements. She must hold a current, unrestricted license in the U.S. or Canada. She must also have a minimum of a master’s degree in nursing and must submit a copy of her master’s program transcript that verifies her supervised clinical experience. In addition, the NP must have a minimum of 500 hours of supervised clinical experience in advanced practice, working with patients and families who have or are dealing with substance abuse issues. The NP can complete her clinical experience in the master’s program or after she graduates. Fees for the exam ranged from $295 to $555 in 2013, depending on whether the NP was an INSA member.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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