Learn more about Ethics for Substance Abuse Counselors.

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Today in Clinical supervision we took a closer look at the updated professional Code of Ethics (NAADAC, 2016). Review of ethics should be a regular practice – but it often is one that we think of when we are in a pinch, or beginning to rationalize our anticipated decisions to make the dilemma fit, or to help us feel less guilty, more right.

Ethics is not about doing the right thing, modifying an action or standard to make it more right for self. Ethics is about doing things right, using a standard, and applying that standard in a consistent measure.

Many ethical standards of conduct are universal among the broad social services profession, and yet they are still broken. Breaching of ethical standards may be clear in many instances. As addiction counselors, we may encounter dilemmas that when addressed, can avoid a violation. Do you hire a former client as a house manager? Do you accept commission for referrals? Do you accept gifts from clients, or barter for services? Do you use your clients to help move the office, or paint the building? These are only a few dilemmas that are real to our field. Ignoring dilemmas can surely result in an ethical violation, compromising client welfare and professional standards.

Ethics codes are designed to create ethical deliberation. In the process of deliberation, discussion, supervision and consultation are advised tools for us to use to discern the pathway toward an ethical outcome. Some actions are clear violations according to standards. Others may appear in a gray area. This is where the Addiction Professional can get hooked, trying to rationalize their thinking, or apply what I call situational ethics – in this situation this will apply, but over here the same situation, that will apply. This is an attempt to make one’s actions fit a standard, rather than applying the standard to guide the actions or behavior in support of ethical practice.

Dilemmas can be resolved in advance of a violation, thereby averting an ethical investigation, and attempting to protect all parties and support decisions by using a standard. “When endeavoring to resolve a dilemma, addiction professionals shall utilize and document, when appropriate, an ethical decision-making model.” (Johnson, 2017). The recommended steps of the ethical decision making model ae:

  1. IDENTIFY the ethical dilemma and/or legal issues.

  2. APPLY the NAADAC / NCC AP Code of Ethics and applicable laws.

  3. EXAMINE the nature and dimensions of the dilemma.

  4. GENERATE list of potential options / solutions.

  5. CONSIDER potential consequences of each option / solution generated in Step #4.

  6. EVALUATE the selected options land develop a course of action.

  7. IMPLEMENT the chosen course of action.

  8. ANALYZE the implementation of the plan.

  9. REASSESS if implementation was not successful, begin decision making process again.

When in doubt, it is your ethical obligation to consult with others, to seek supervision, and document the process and outcome as needed. Bacteria can only grow in the dark. By exposing the dilemma to the light when consulting with trusted professional and your supervisor, you can avert a potentially harmful action toward yourself, others, your clients, and our profession.


Johnson, M. (Spring 2017). Enforcing the NAADAC/NCCAP Code of Ethics. Advances in Addiction and Recovery, The Official Publication of NAADAV, the Association for Addiction Professionals. Spring, 2017, pp. 8-10.

NAADAC. (2016, 10). Introduction to NAADAC / NCC AP Ethical Standards. Retrieved from https://www.naadac.org/code-of-ethics

NAADAC. (2016, 10). NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. NCC AP: The National Certification commission for Addiction Professionals. Code of Ethics. Approved 10.09.2016. Retrieved http://naadac2016.sitewrench.com/assets/2416/naadac-code-of-ethics-033117.pdf


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Last updated 06/2020

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