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History of the Academy

Established in 1989, The American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders was the first international certification organization for addiction specialists. The Academy was founded by leading expert clinicians and researchers in the field of addiction studies who saw a need for a core set of competency-based standards for addiction treatment. At the time of the creation of the Academy, there was wide variability and inconsistency in treatment approaches to the addictions. Addiction treatment was offered by a variety of health care providers (e.g., doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, etc.) in very different treatment settings, using diverse and often incompatible treatment modalities. Additionally, despite mounting behavioral and neurological evidence to the contrary, some addictions were not considered to be 'legitimate' addictions, e.g. gambling, sexual addiction and, therefore, went untreated and even undiagnosed. This confusion was troubling as it came at a time when the rates of addiction, particularly chemical dependency, were rising rapidly. The American Academy was founded to resolve these issues by establishing a comprehensive, interdisciplinary standard of competence for addiction treatment, a standard that is reflected in its Certified Addiction Specialist (CAS) credential.

As a credentialing organization in the addictive disorders, the Academy has been and is unique in a number of important ways.

  1. It is a multi-disciplinary organization and is comprised of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, counselors and forensic counselors, unified in their knowledge of and experience in treating the addictions.
  2. The CAS credential is the only credential that includes the full-range of addictive disorders, covering alcoholism and other forms of chemical dependency, compulsive gambling, eating disorders and sexual addiction. This comprehensive approach to addiction is crucial in light of the growing research evidence for the behavioral and neurological similarities between the addictions (Levinson, Gerstein & Maloff, 1983; Sunderwirth & Milkman, 1991) and high co-occurrence of addictive behaviors (Lesieur & Blume, 1991).

  3. The standards for the CAS credential are experientially based, requiring documentation of a significant number of clinical hours and of supervisor ratings. The Academy takes elaborate steps to ensure the qualifications of our members' supervisors. Through its examination, the Academy also ensures that its members possess a contemporary understanding of the central tenets of addiction treatment. These standards are constantly being revised in light of new research findings to reflect the current thinking on addiction and addiction treatment. This is a significant strength of the Academy, as the field of addiction treatment has moved increasingly toward accountability for treatment outcomes, while similar organizations have failed to integrate treatment outcome findings into their certification process.

As the primary concern of the American Academy since its inception has been to ensure the highest quality treatment for those suffering from addiction, the Academy sought to establish a single, national standard of competence in addiction treatment. The Academy participated on the National Steering Committee on Addiction Counseling Standards sponsored by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) in an effort to achieve this unity of standards and competencies between these organizations through this national committee.

The American Academy has long welcomed and included health care providers from all disciplines, not limiting the credentialing to one specific group, such as counselors. Since its creation, the Academy has provided advocacy, representation and support for those working in the addictions.

As the first and most comprehensive credential in the field of addiction treatment, the American Academy has set the highest standard for competency in the provision of health care, a standard that is recognized by clients, regulatory bodies and third parties alike.


Lesieur, H.R. & Blume, S.B. (1991). Evaluation of patients treated for pathological gambling in a combined alcohol, substance abuse and pathological gambling treatment unit using the Addiction Severity Index. British Journal of Addiction, 86, 1017-1028.

Levinson, P., Gerstein, D., & Maloff, D. (Eds.) (1983). Commonalities in Substance Abuse & Habitual Behavior. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.

Sunderwirth, S. & Milkman, H. (1991). Behavioral and neurochemical commonalities in addiction. Contemporary Family Therapy, 13(5), 421-433.