Online Addiction & Substance Abuse Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Substance abuse and addictions represent a significant social ill that undermines the quality of life of millions of people, the cohesion of communities, and the functioning of the American economy. 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the current ubiquity of substance abuse and addiction constitutes a genuine public health emergency in the United States. Related statistics are worrisome. Approximately 105,000 people died of fatal overdoses between December 2021 and December 2022. At least twenty million Americans aged twelve years and older have a substance use disorder. Fifty-three million Americans in this same age group are estimated to have used illegal or misused prescription drugs within the last year. 

Furthermore, when alcohol and tobacco are included in the analysis, the percentage of Americans abusing drugs swells to six in ten Americans. Finally, given the strain on the nation’s healthcare system since the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020, these numbers likely underestimate the true scale of Americans suffering from substance abuse and addiction issues.

Given the prevalence of addiction in American society, the need for trained counselors and therapists specializing in substance abuse and addiction treatment is robust. Several factors are expected to contribute to the sustained demand. These include the trauma and dislocation caused by the Covid pandemic, the pace of technological and economic change that leaves many people feeling left behind, and the emergence of especially addictive drugs like fentanyl. 

According to United States Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram, fentanyl is found in all 50 states, in rural and urban environments, and everywhere in between, and is now considered the single deadliest drug threat the nation has ever encountered.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023) projects that the national demand for substance abuse and addiction treatment professionals will swell 22 percent from 2021 to 2031. This growth projection is much larger than the average growth anticipated across all US occupations over the same period (5 percent). 

As is true of many academic programs, bachelor’s degree programs for addiction and substance abuse treatment professionals are often offered using various delivery models designed to accommodate the needs of a diverse student body. Many programs offer in-person, hybrid, and fully online coursework. These varied formats can better meet the needs of working professionals, distance learning students unable to relocate, and others whose learning outcomes may be better when they are given the option to study online.

This guide to substance abuse and addiction bachelor’s degree programs features several sections, including common admissions requirements, typical coursework, information on program accreditation, and a sampling of active online counseling programs.

Typical Admissions Requirements for Addictions and Substance Abuse Bachelor’s Degree Programs

A bachelor’s degree program in addiction and substance abuse treatment features several admissions requirements. They frequently include:

  • Applicants must demonstrate satisfactory completion of a high school curriculum through either a high school diploma or GED. Applicants may also have to provide ACT or SAT scores though this may be optional.
  • While many students beginning an undergraduate degree program in counseling often have little direct experience of the practice of counseling or other significant professional achievements, such students nonetheless usually must have both a level of emotional maturity and a healthy capacity for self-reflection commensurate with what is expected of those who will work in the counseling profession to succeed in such academic programs.
  • Interpersonal skills are necessary to create and sustain effective therapeutic and other relationships with clients, co-workers, and supervisors.
  • Sensitivity to the needs, challenges, and perspectives of diverse populations is also important, including those who are disabled, those who come from historically marginalized and underserved populations.

Common Courses in Addictions and Substance Abuse Bachelor’s Degree Programs

A bachelor’s degree program in addiction and substance abuse counseling often emphasizes the theoretical foundation necessary to establish a successful career as a counselor. Students completing a bachelor’s degree often complete more courses specific to the training of addiction counselors than those who complete an associate degree in the same field. Those seeking to hold additional responsibilities such as clinical privileges that allow them to diagnose patients, work with diverse and demanding client populations, and educate new counseling professionals, typically will go on to obtain master’s- and doctoral-level degrees.

Courses common to bachelor’s-level addiction and substance abuse studies include the following:

  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Addiction and Substance Use Counseling Theories
  • Principles of Addictions Counseling
  • Assessment and Diagnosis of Addiction and Substance Abuse
  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling
  • Dynamics of Group Counseling
  • Study of Alcohol Use and Addiction
  • Study of Drug Use and Addiction
  • Family Dynamics
  • Case Management
  • Special Populations
  • Co-occurring Disorders
  • Substance Abuse Internship/Practicum
  • Internship

Supervised Internships – Addictions and Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor’s Degree Programs

As noted in the previous section, students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in counseling customarily complete an internship as part of their degree requirements. In this regard, the coursework to obtain a bachelor’s degree in counseling is similar to that required of master’s- and doctoral-level counseling degree programs. Real-world experience is a vital element of the training necessary to inculcate students with the skills, experience, and confidence necessary to become effective counselors. Internships within the counseling profession somewhat mimic the value ascribed to the hands-on learning many experiences in apprenticeships common to other professions.

Completing an internship provides valuable, hands-on experience and the academic credit usually necessary to fulfill degree requirements completely. Many schools will offer students assistance in identifying and securing an internship placement. In some cases, students can propose and secure their internship placement provided the placement meets academic credit guidelines followed by their school and other entities such as state-level professional licensure boards.

While the parameters of a degree program’s internship requirement often vary somewhat among schools, they nonetheless have common features. Generally speaking, they are:

  • Designed to fulfill the requirements and/or standards set forth by the agency that has accredited the counseling degree program.
  • Identified and secured through a collaborative process between a student, an academic advisor, and a trusted individual working within the potential internship site.
  • A non-negotiable piece of the total academic credit a student must earn to be awarded a degree.
  • Completed relatively late in a student’s academic studies. In a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program, many students will not complete their internship until their third or fourth year of study.

Program Accreditation for Additions and Substance Abuse Bachelor’s Programs

The primary professional association tasked with the training, promotion and credentialing of addiction and substance abuse professionals is the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). First established in 1982, the organization evolved from the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers (NAACT), founded in 1972. 

NAADAC represents the professional interests of more than 100,000 addiction counselors, educators, and other addiction-focused healthcare professionals in the United States, Canada, and other nations abroad. NAADAC works to promote the education and professional practice needs of a diverse population of addiction and substance abuse healthcare professionals, including not just counselors but also educators, administrators, nurses, social workers, researchers, and those who hold leadership roles in the expanding discipline of addiction and substance abuse treatment and prevention.

It is important to distinguish between institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation. Most higher education institutions offering bachelor’s degree-level counseling programs will hold institution-wide accreditation, but may not necessarily also hold programmatic accreditation specific to the counseling degree programs operating within these institutions. In a practical sense, accreditation at the bachelor’s degree level is often not as important as it is for more advanced degrees because many states’ professional counselor regulations require counselors to have, at minimum, a master’s degree as well as 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised work experience to obtain the license necessary to practice. 

Attending a bachelor’s degree-level counseling program with programmatic accreditation is generally preferable as that accreditation improves the chances a student seeking an advanced degree necessary to obtain a license will be considered a competitive candidate when applying to such programs. Also, given that accreditation generally inspires more respect and trust in the skills and integrity of counseling practitioners, it is generally wise to seek out programs that feature accreditation.

Prospective students should take note that legitimate online degree programs are accredited by agencies that are themselves recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the non-profit Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Featured Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling

Northwestern State University of Louisiana

Northwestern State University of Louisiana offers a 120-credit bachelor of science degree in addiction studies. The curriculum trains students to understand the human mind, addictive behavior, and current and anticipated future developments in addiction counseling. Graduates of programs focused on addiction studies are often especially suited to employment in positions focused on human resources, personnel management, and communications.

The curriculum features a blend of core coursework and instruction from several other disciplines, including English, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The 60 credits of core coursework consist of 27 credits of psychology study and 33 credits of addiction studies. While students do have the option to complete coursework at other schools, they must complete their last 30 credits at NSUL and ensure all intended transferred coursework will satisfy NSUL requirements to ensure they will graduate.

  • Location: Natchitoches, LA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: $2,590 for a 12-credit semester courseload regardless of residency status; online courses feature a $50 electronic learning fee per course

Ohio Christian University

Ohio Christian University is a non-profit university offering degree programs in various fields, including psychology, management, human resources, business, and emergency management. In particular, it offers a bachelor of arts degree in substance abuse counseling. 

This self-paced program features five-week courses and flexibility regarding a student’s intended graduation date. The university culture features a non-denominational Christian worldview, a non-competitive student body, and interactive forums with peers and professors that can be completed for academic credit.

Students seeking licensure within Ohio in chemical dependency must meet three requirements. They must complete OCU’s BA in substance abuse counseling, accrue supervised professional experience in chemical dependency counseling and pass the corresponding state licensure test. Upon completing 40 hours of chemical dependency training in appropriate areas, students may apply for certified chemical dependency assistant (CDCA) status. Students must secure this designation to be permitted to complete the entry-level employment and supervision requirements necessary to be eligible to take the state licensure test.

High school students interested in college-level study and possibly pursuing a degree at OCU may apply to the Trailblazer Academy. This program allows students to take college-level courses through “Dual Credit/Ohio College Credit Plus.” This program may allow for a more seamless and successful transition into college study. In addition, credit for such coursework often transfers to other colleges and universities.

  • Location: Circleville, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Duration: See website for details
  • Tuition: $416 per credit hour plus fees

Purdue Global – Indianapolis

Purdue Global, an NAADAC-approved education provider, offers a 180-credit bachelor of science degree in psychology in addiction. Graduates understand the concepts, values, theories, studies, research methods, and trends within the field of psychology necessary to become highly skilled professionals adept at meeting the needs of diverse client populations. 

Specifically, students learn about the process of addiction, pharmacology, recovery, and prevention. They apply a scientific approach in their work evaluating and treating clients. Students can also earn a peer recovery support specialist micro-credential after completing a particular set of courses.

Graduates discover a variety of new opportunities open to them. For example, the curriculum satisfies the academic requirements necessary to sit for the national certification commission for addiction professionals (NCC AP) and national certified addiction counselor, levels I and II (NCAC I & II) certification exams. Prospective students should note that these certification exams also have non-academic requirements that must be met before they will be eligible to sit for these exams. 

After completing the program requirements, some graduates may also be able to obtain the national certified peer recovery support specialist (NCPRSS) certification. Finally, students of the bachelor’s program may simultaneously participate in Purdue’s accelerated master’s degree program while completing their undergraduate curriculum. Such accelerated programs allow individuals to complete their education in a shorter time and with a smaller investment than they would make when completing degrees separately.

  • Location: Indianapolis, IN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); by NAADAC (National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: $66,780 for the full 180-credit program over 17 terms

Southern New Hampshire University

A recipient of the “Most Innovative” regional university honor awarded by U.S. News & World Report each year since 2015, Southern New Hampshire University offers a 120-credit bachelor of arts degree in human services with a concentration in substance abuse. 

The curriculum trains students in the twelve core functions of addiction counseling, culturally responsive assessment and care, and critical thinking and decision-making skills. Students can receive credit towards the degree through prior learning and may transfer up to 90 credit hours from other schools.

Graduates may provide entry-level services in various roles such as community outreach specialist, residential counselor, and support advocate. Employment settings may include residential addiction treatment facilities, outpatient addiction programs, prisons, mental health centers, and community health centers. 

Individuals seeking to provide services such as screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning often need to seek state licensure to be allowed to fulfill such duties.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: $320 per credit 

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati offers a bachelor of science degree in substance abuse counseling. With three start times offered each calendar year, this program consists of a curriculum that can often be completed in three years. 

The curriculum includes an overview of the substance abuse counseling field, pharmacology, factors that contribute to individual substance abuse, clinical assessment and diagnostic practices, cultural competency, and counseling skills.

This research-oriented program provides students with the academic training necessary for licensure in Ohio and is designed for full-time students, part-time students, and career professionals. Specifically, graduates may apply to become licensed chemical dependency counselors III (LCDC III) in Ohio. 

Graduates interested in licensure in other states are advised to research the requirements of state chemical dependency licensure boards to guide their future professional development plans.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Duration: Three years or less
  • Tuition: $549 per credit for residents; $564 per credit for non-residents

Crown College

Crown College offers a bachelor of science degree in alcohol and drug counseling. Those seeking a counseling training program that is also Christ-centered will find this program of interest. This program trains students to identify and understand addiction’s emotional, cognitive, cultural, professional, financial, and spiritual impacts. 

This 125-credit curriculum consists of 15 to 21 credits of Christian studies coursework, 30 credits of general education core courses, 48 credits of core coursework specific to addiction counseling, and 32 elective credits. Students must complete at least 36 credits in upper-level courses to receive their degrees. The curriculum meets the licensure requirements in 31 states.

Students earn a total of 12 credits derived specifically from their internship experience. Completing the internship must meet Minnesota’s requirements to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC).

Crown College assists students in finding an internship experience suitable to their professional interests and goals. Students also may seek out their own placements without such guidance. Examples of past internship sites are listed on the school’s website.

  • Location: Saint Bonifacius, MN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: $440 per credit plus fees; $495 per credit for part-time status (under 12 credits)

City Vision University

City Vision University, a non-profit Christian university, offers a 120-credit  bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling. The university promotes itself as offering an “extremely practical Christian education” for those interested in a career in addiction counseling and non-profit management. The program features eight-week-long courses which can be started on one of five start dates per year. A vast majority of the faculty work in ministry, non-profit, or Christian counseling center settings.

The curriculum is designed in alignment with NAADAC addiction counseling standards. Its content is designed to teach students the twelve core functions of a certified addiction counselor. Courses are also designed to prepare students for certification as addiction counselors and peer support specialists. Graduates have the training necessary to effectively work in settings such as rescue missions and Salvation Army urban ministry sites. 

  • Location: Kansas City, MO 
  • Accreditation: National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: $7,500 per year

University of Maine at Augusta

The University of Maine at Augusta offers a bachelor of science degree in mental health and human services. This 121-credit program features an intensive writing course, 30 credit hours of residency courses, and nine credits of upper-level major residency courses. 

The curriculum trains students to develop skills in crisis and caseload management, advocacy, psychosocial rehabilitation, counseling, and job coaching. Many of the student body consists of returning students who postponed their education due to parenthood, military service, and economic considerations. In recognition of the demanding lives of many working professionals, most of the coursework may be completed online.

Students seeking to specialize in substance abuse and addiction select the addiction counseling concentration. Students who initially choose this concentration but wish to change their focus may choose from one of three other concentrations. The bachelor of science degree fulfills the academic requirements for the licensed social worker-conditional (LSX) credential. Those who complete the adult mental health rehabilitation concentration can seek the mental health rehabilitation/community (MHRT/C) credential.

  • Location: Augusta, ME
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: See website for details

University of South Dakota

Rated by as the best online addiction counseling program in 2023, the University of South Dakota Department of Addiction Counseling and Prevention has been recognized as a national leader in addiction counseling and prevention for approximately half a century. In USD’s bachelor of science degree in addiction counseling and prevention (ACP), students develop theoretical knowledge regarding the nature, etiology, prevention, and treatment of alcohol and other drug issues. 

Students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary to effectively work with various client populations in numerous settings. Graduates are eligible for addiction/prevention credentialing through the South Dakota Board of Addiction and Prevention Professionals (SDBAPP).

The 120-credit program features 45 credits of major coursework within the ACP Department. These departmental requirements consist of 30 credits of ACP core courses, six credits of specialization courses, and nine credits of electives. Students planning to complete online courses outside South Dakota are advised to review the USD State Authorization webpage.

  • Location: Vermillion, SD
  • Accreditation: National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC)
  • Duration: Four years
  • Tuition: $259.10 per credit for residents; $376.10 per credit for non-residents

Professors to Know in Addictions and Substance Abuse Bachelor’s Programs

Dr. John Korkow

University of South Dakota

Dr. John Korkow serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Addiction Counseling and Prevention at the University of South Dakota. He also works as a Licensed Addiction Counselor for Lutheran Social Services. His research interests include alcohol and drug neurology, alcohol and drug counseling, qualitative research methodology, and Native Americans in college settings.

Dr. Korkow’s education and career has been centered in South Dakota. He completed three academic degrees at the University of South Dakota between 2000 and 2008. After completing his undergraduate degree in alcohol and drug studies, he completed a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and, finally, a PhD in educational psychology. He has received recognition for his teaching excellence while a long-term member of the USD School of Health Sciences. 

In addition to his academic degrees, Dr. Korkow is also recognized as a Licensed Addiction Counselor, a Level III Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor and an International Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

Dr. Tom Alexander

Purdue Global

Dr. Tom Alexander currently provides instruction in several graduate-level psychology courses at Purdue Global. He first joined the university as a part-time adjunct faculty member. He currently works as a licensed professional counselor in Texas, specializing in treating trauma, addiction, and depression. He is also certified in using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as a healing modality. Additional issues he specializes in include anxiety, men’s issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexual abuse and addiction, elderly person disorders, and transgender issues.

Dr. Alexander has experience in forensic mental health, inpatient psychiatric care, residential substance abuse treatment and managed care. He is a member of NAADAC.

Dr. Kim Lane

University of Maine at Augusta

Dr. Kim Lane is a professor of mental health and human services at the University of Maine at Augusta. She has been a full-time teacher since late 2009. Before teaching, she had a long mental health and addiction career. She has worked as a counselor with individuals, families, and couples and held leadership positions. She holds the distinction of being one of the first people to be an intensive case manager. 

Dr. Lane completed much of her formal education within the University of Maine system. She holds an associate of science degree in criminal justice from the University of Maine at Augusta, a bachelor of science in rehabilitation services from Farmington, and a master of social work from the Orono campus of UM. She was awarded a PhD in human services from Capella University.

Jobs in Addictions and Substance Abuse Counseling Industry: What Can I Do with a Bachelors in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling?

Individuals with bachelor’s degrees in addiction and substance abuse counseling have the training to work in various roles. A selection of some common roles and their associated duties are listed below:

  • Chemical dependency practitioner: Run individual, family, and group counseling for patients in chemical dependency programs. If necessary, act as a mediator between patients, relatives, medical staff, and outside agencies. Track patient progress, including the provision of treatment services.
  • Substance abuse counselor: Manage all aspects of a client’s case from entry to discharge. Evaluate patient physical and mental behaviors and develop suitable treatment and recovery plans. Facilitate individual and group therapy sessions. Track patient progress. Collaborate with psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, social workers, and departments of correction.
  • Guidance counselor: Conduct individual and group counseling sessions to advise and assist students with academic and vocational development. Evaluate students’ attributes, strengths, and weaknesses to assist them in creating effective strategies and skills to realize their goals. Complete evaluations, analyze results, and provide feedback to guide student decision-making. Arrange and schedule orientation programs and internships.

Those who wish to specialize further in their skills and the client populations they work with, embark upon a career as a professor, and/or work in high-level roles featuring leadership and management responsibilities will often need to seek advanced degrees in counseling. Professionals with advanced degrees typically find more opportunities in settings such as higher education, hospitals and clinics, rehabilitation centers, and non-profit organizations.

Bernd Geels

Bernd Geels


Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at [email protected].